After a slow start this season, the Tokyo Apache are starting to hit on all cylinders.
They improved to .500 with a satisfyingly stylish 92-83 win over the Saitama Broncos on Sunday afternoon at Tokorozawa Municipal Gymnasium.
Muscular forward Julius Ashby scored 29 points on 13-for-19 shooting as Tokyo (4-4) played a comfortable, disciplined game, committing only nine turnovers. He had nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks, as well as one minute of rest.
Equally impressive, point guard Rasheed Sparks flirted with a triple-double (19 points, including 4-for-7 from 3-point range), nine rebounds and eight assists — season highs in all three categories — in only his fourth game. He missed the team’s first two games while waiting for his U.S. visa to be cleared.
Tokyo was 9-for-10 on 2-point shots in the final quarter, running its offense to maximum efficiency. Ashby was 5-for-5 in that span, scoring points on jumpers, layups and soft bank-in shots off the glass, and had 11 fourth-quarter points. (And, oh yeah, he had four dunks in the game.)
Said Apache coach Motofumi Aoki: “He’s a super strong player inside.”
Lanky wing Shoji Nakanishi scored 11 of his 13 points in the fourth, swishing two 3-pointers and making both of his shots from inside the arc. Early in the fourth, he drained an off-balance fadeaway jumper from the right baseline, turned to his teammates on the bench and smiled. He repeated the gesture after making another jumper to tie it at 65-65 with 8:08 remaining.
“I think he just gets fired up,” Sparks said of Nakanishi’s emotional antics after a basket. “That gets the team going.”
Other Apache players had no trouble finding the motivation to excel in the series finale, several hours after Tokyo topped Saitama 71-68, a game in which the Apache’s nine blocked shots to Saitama’s one was the deciding factor. Diminutive sparkplug Cohey Aoki contributed 17 points, including a pair of nifty reverse layups, and Nick Davis had a 10-point, 12-rebound, five-assist outing.
Saitama, on the other hand, misfired on 11 of 18 fourth-quarter shots, and that’s never a recipe for success in a close game.
Tokyo trailed 21-20 after one quarter and 40-37 at halftime, but a more disciplined, inside-outside attack proved to be the difference in the second half.
“We still have a long way to go,” Sparks said. “But we have good team chemistry and good communication.”
Terrence Woodyard, one of nine newcomers on the Broncos’ 12-man roster this season, paced the hosts with 32 points.
When it was over, Woodyard expressed frustration over the team’s struggles, standing on the court and speaking to the fans.
“We’re getting better, even though the results haven’t shown that yet,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll turn things around.”
Saitama, now 0-6, travels to face the Toyama Grouses, coach Masato Fukushima’s old team, next weekend.
Also Sunday, the Toyama Grouses completed a series sweep with a 77-67 road win over the Rizing Fukuoka.
Veteran forward Kirby Lemons, who had a jaw-dropping 42-point, 30-rebound performance in Toyama’s triple-overtime triumph on Saturday while playing all 55 minutes, had 14 points and 21 points in the rematch. Brandon Thomas and Makoto Kato scored 15 points apiece for Toyama (3-1), Jason Arbet added 14 and Takeshi Mito handed out six assists.
For Fukuoka (1-5), Michael Parker led the way with 26 points and 24 boards and Richard Ford Jr. had a 21-point game.
Mike Bell paced the Oita HeatDevils with 24 points and added 14 rebounds in a 69-66 road triumph over the Kyoto Hannaryz.
Swingman Ricky Woods chipped in with 15 points and 11 boards, Kimitake Sato had a 10-point effort and rookie center Rashaad Singleton crashed the boards all game, picking up 15 rebounds along the way. Oita improved to 2-2 under first-year coach Brian Rowsom.
Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who had four straight games with 20 or more points entering the series finale, was Kyoto’s high scorer with 14 points. Taizo Kawabe finished with 13 points for the expansion Hannaryz (3-3), who have played four of their first six games at home.
High-energy guard Masashi Joho poured in a team-best 22 points in the host Lakestars’ 83-80 victory over the Osaka Evessa.
Shiga, a second-year franchise, improved to 4-0 at home and 6-2 overall, taking over sole possession of first place in the Western Conference.
Chris Schlatter had a 14-point performance and Shinya Ogawa put 12 points on the board for the Lakestars.
Evessa star Lynn Washington led all scorers with 25 points. Four Osaka players combined for 70 of the team’s total points as coach Kensaku Tennichi’s squad slipped to 3-3.
Elsewhere, William Knight scored 29 points, Wendell White had 28 and Shingo Okada 16 in the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix’s 105-93 win over the host Niigata Albirex BB.
Niigata fell to 2-4. Hamamatsu improved to 5-1.