Facing two Western Conference powerhouses in the past two weeks, the Tokyo Apache had an opportunity to make a bold statement in that span: to send a message to the rest of the bj-league that they are a force to be reckoned with this season.
That message was delivered loud and clear.
The Apache defeated the Ryukyu Golden Kings 86-80 on Sunday to earn a two-game sweep at Ariake Colosseum, including a one-point overtime triumph on Saturday.
The Osaka Evessa, the three-time defending champions, left town on Nov. 20 with a one-point loss on their ledger after a victory in the series opener.
Tokyo coach Joe Bryant said his club earned “two big wins this weekend against a very, very good team.”
Yes, indeed. Despite two straight defeats, the Golden Kings (11-3) are still in first place in the Western Conference under first-year coach Dai Oketani.
On Sunday, Cohey Aoki lived up to his “Mr. Automatic” reputation at the free-throw line. The All-Star point guard calmly hit eight free throws in the final 1:07 to seal the victory for the Apache and help them avoid a repeat of Saturday’s action, when the game was sent into overtime by Ryukyu sharpshooter Shigeyuki Kinjo.
“Cohey was special down the stretch and made all his free throws,” Bryant said.
John Humphrey scored a team-high 24 points for the Apache (8-4), including 6-for-8 from 3-point range. Aoki finished with 19 points, followed by Masashi Joho’s 15 (and 3-for-6 from 3-point land) and Tizzo Johnson’s 11.
As a team, Tokyo made 11 of 18 3-point attempts.
“For us to shoot as well as we did from the 3-point line, we couldn’t do that unless we were able to give those players some minutes’ rest so their legs would be strong as the game goes on,” Bryant said.
The Golden Kings trailed 66-52 entering the fourth quarter, but quickly trimmed the deficit to 66-60. Consecutive 3-pointers by Humphrey and Joho pushed the lead back to 10 points for the hosts.
Kinjo, however, gave his team a spark in crunch time, draining two 3s in a 12-second span to make it 80-75 in the final minute.
Seconds later, Anthony McHenry’s 3-pointer with 4 seconds to play kept Ryukyu in striking distance (84-80). The Golden Kings then sent Aoki to the charity stripe one more time, and he put the finishing touches on a well-rounded Tokyo victory with two nothing-but-net shots.
Apache center Nick Davis earned a rare ejection. He picked up his second technical foul late in the second quarter, but fellow big man Julius Ashby (seven points, 13 rebounds, three blocks) had a productive outing in Davis’ absence.
Chris Ayer, a former Oita HeatDevils player, scored 27 points, including five slam dunks, to lead the Golden Kings. McHenry finished with 25 points and Kinjo had 11.
Tokyo’s aggressive backcourt defense flourished. Darin Satoshi Maki had six steals, four of which came in the first quarter, to set the tone for the team’s guards. Joho had his fourth game of three or more steals in the past six. Collectively, they helped stymie Golden Kings point guard Naoto Takushi (two assists, six turnovers).
Also Sunday, the host Osaka Evessa completed their two-game sweep over the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, earning an 85-74 victory in the series finale.
Lynn Washington and Nile Murry scored 23 and 21 points, respectively, to lead the Evessa.
Jeffrey Price scored 31 points and grabbed 17 boards in the Oita HeatDevils’ 66-62 road victory over the Toyama Grouses, who fell to 0-2 under interim coach Hirokazu Nema.
The Saitama Broncos, meanwhile, recorded a series split against the Shiga Lakestars, ending the weekend with an 83-69 win.
Elsewhere, Bobby St. Preux’s all-around excellence lifted the visiting Sendai 89ers to a 95-81 win over the Rizing Fukuoka.
St. Preux scored a game-best 31 points, hauled in 10 rebounds and dished out seven assists for the 89ers (7-7).