Despite the absence of Jeff Newton from the lineup on Sunday, the Ryukyu Golden Kings earned a series split in the season-opening battle of the bj-league’s Western Conference powers.
Big man George Leach, acquired in the offseason to give the team more depth at center, scored 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds to lead Ryukyu to an 81-74 win over Osaka at the Okinawa Convention Center.
Newton, the league’s 2008-09 regular-season and playoff MVP, played 34 minutes in Saturday’s six-point loss to Osaka. He sprained his ankle early in the game, but true to his tough demeanor he remained in the contest. On Sunday, Newton sat on the bench, getting a closeup view of the teams with all of the bj-league’s championships: Osaka (three, 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08) and Ryukyu (one, last season).
Newton, a former Evessa star, is expected to return to the lineup next Saturday, a team official confirmed Sunday night.
Shooting guard Shigeyuki Kinjo, who was 2-for-15 from 3-point range in the series opener, again struggled with his outside shot against Osaka. He finished 0-for-5 from beyond the arc, but made 5 of 10 2-point attempts and had a sterling 9-for-10 effort from the charity stripe. He scored 19 points.
Other Kings stepped up their game as well, proving that Newton isn’t the only go-to player on coach Dai Oketani’s roster. Forward Bryan Simpson, now in his third year on the squad, had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Anthony McHenry added 12 points, four rebounds and three assists and Tsubasa Yonamine contributed eight points, eight rebounds and five assists.
Lynn Washington paced the Evessa with 25 points and 11 rebounds, while David Palmer scored 19 and Nile Murry had 14.
Also Sunday, the Shiga Lakestars improved to 3-1, cruising to a 92-62 win over the visiting Takamatsu Five Arrows.
Ex-University of Miami (Fla.) forward Gary Hamilton had his second sensational game in as many days for Shiga, finishing with 21 points and 17 rebounds. In the Lakestars’ home opener, he had a 24-point, 24-rebound, seven-assist, six-steal outing.
Shiga’s Chris Schlatter (20 points, nine boards),Masashi Joho (12 points), Luke Zeller (11 points) and Bobby Nash (10 points, seven boards) all made key contributions for coach Bob Pierce’s club.
The Five Arrows (0-4) lost 103-56 and 87-69 last weekend against the host Sendai 89ers, and suffered a 120-72 defeat against Shiga in the teams’ first meeting. This week, the Shikoku-based team announced the signing of former Saitama Broncos center Antoine Broxsie, a quality interior defender and shot-blocker, and high-scoring guard Michael Gardener, who played under Takamatsu coach John Neumann two seasons ago in the Rizing Fukuoka’s inaugural season and was the league’s third-leading scorer last season while suiting up for the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix.
But Broxsie and Gardener have yet to play for the Five Arrows, who relied on all Japanese players in the season’s first four games.
Yu Okada was Takamatsu’s top offensive performer in the series finale. He had a 27-point effort, as well as six rebounds and five assists, and Satoshi Takeda put 15 points on the board.
Shiga’s superior bench strength and overall depth were important factors in this game. The Five Arrows led 22-19 after one quarter, but were outscored 73-40 the rest of the way.