GYODA, Saitama Pref. — A day after giving first-year coach Charles Johnson a satisfying victory on his 48th birthday, the Toyama Grouses were handed a bold reminder that they’ve still got plenty of work to do in their full-fledged reclamation project.
The Grouses trailed from start to finish in an 83-77 loss to the Saitama Broncos on Sunday at Gyoda Green Arena.
Toyama slipped to 8-8; Saitama improved to 8-10.
“They jumped onto us right in the first half. We attempted a comeback and we did our best to get back into the game in the fourth quarter,” said Johnson, who wore a slick red tie given to him by Toyama boosters for his birthday.
“We have a long way to go, but we are going to try to keep improving each and every game,” said Johnson, a former Saitama coach whose current team went 11-41 in 2008-09. “We are going to keep working and moving forward.”
Daiki Terashita’s spot-up jumper gave the Broncos a 2-0 lead at the 9:18 mark, and they never looked back.
They led 29-15 after one quarter and took a 49-32 advantage into halftime, when Johnson told his players to tighten their defense and stop giving up as many easy baskets to the hosts.
Saitama moved the ball inside and swung it around the perimeter with poise and purpose. Point guard Mario Jointer handed out a game-best nine assists and scored eight points, getting high praise from Broncos coach Masato Fukushima for his dribble drives in traffic and smart ball-handling decisions.
“Our inside-outside attack was stronger today,” Fukushima declared, adding his team’s defense picked up its intensity in the rematch as well.
Power forward Kwbana Beckles paced Saitama with 16 points and collected 10 rebounds. Teammate Andrew Arnold had 11 points, 11 boards and three blocked shots. Center Terrence Roberts added 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, while shooting guard Taishiro Shimizu was 6-for-8 from the field for 14 points and coolly dished out four assists.
Despite a large halftime deficit, the Grouses whittled away at the lead. Forward Jason Arbet scored 11 third-quarter points to ignite the visitors.
Toyama, which was 9-for-10 at the free-throw line in the third, including Arbet’s 3-for-3, closed out the quarter on a 15-4 run to pull within 63-58.
Grouses forward Jason Underwood’s free throw made it 72-67 with 4:33 left, but Roberts pushed the lead back to seven on Saitama’s next trip down the floor, and his reverse layup gave the Broncos a nine-point cushion seconds later.
Kirby Lemons’ 3-pointer trimmed the lead to 82-77 in the final, but the Grouses fell short of a comeback win.
Lemons led Toyama with 15 points, Takeshi Mito, Brandon Thomas and Arbet each scored 12.
And now it’s time for the Grouses to prepare for next weekend’s road series against the Eastern Conference-leading Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix (15-3).
“As a team, we can learn a lot from a game like this,” Johnson said. “It’ll help you mentally, physically, all that. Whatever we have to work on to get better, we’ll do.”
The Grouses have shown flashes of brilliance this season — from Lemons’ 42-point, 30-rebound effort on Oct. 24 to Makoto Kato’s season-best 31-point performance, including 9-for-10 from the charity stripe, on Saturday in Toyama’s 100-90 win. Like other teams, they’ve also had below-average team and individual outings as well. Kato, for instance, was 3-for-12 from the field on Sunday for nine points. The 27-year-old had five assists and four turnovers as well.
“That’s what I’m saying about being a pro,” Johnson said. “You have to be able to put yourself on that stage every single night, and you have to get to that mental level where you just play strong each night and be consistent. That’s mostly what it is.
“Being young, you don’t really understand about being consistent even though we speak about it all the time.”
Lemons, 30, is the youthful team’s elder statesman.
Elsewhere in the bj-league, the Niigata Albirex BB extended their winning streak to six games, defeating the host Takamatsu Five Arrows 100-83.
Paul Butorac (25 points, 15 rebounds), Antonio Burks (21 points, 17 boards), Tyrone Levett (20 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists), Akitomo Takeno (10 points, four assists) and Shuhei Komatsu (nine points, 3-for-3 on 3-point shots) carried the Albirex to their eighth win in 16 games.
Now, playing as well as any team in the league, Niigata coach Masaya Hirose’s squad has everyone’s undivided attention.
Over the weekend, Burks knocked down 8 of 14 3-pointers and Takeno was 6-for-12 from downtown. That bodes well for the team’s ability to stretch the defense and create scoring opportunities in the lane.
Yu Okada finished with a team-leading 25 points for Takamatsu (7-15), while Michael Gardener had 20 points and 12 assists.
Nile Murry lifted the Osaka Evessa to an 82-75 home win over the Sendai 89ers.
The veteran point guard’s 21-point, seven-rebound, six-assist, four-steal effort helped the Evessa (9-11) record a series split. Lynn Washington had 18 points, Waki Williams scored 12 and Shota Konno 10.
Osaka raced out a 27-14 lead after one quarter, getting the early boost it needed against a quality foe.
Chris Holm was Sendai’s top scorer with 21 points. He also grabbed 16 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Gyno Pomare had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Takehiko Shimura contributed 16 points and seven assists and Kenichi Takahashi had 14 points for the 89ers (12-8).
Bobby Nash’s 17-point outing and 16-point efforts from Masashi Joho and Chris Schlatter ignited the Shiga Lakestars to a 76-57 home win over the Kyoto Hannaryz.
Five Lakestars players scored in double figures, including Takamichi Fujiwara (13 points, five assists). Luke Zeller raked in 16 rebounds for Shiga (11-11).
For Kyoto (5-13) Josh Bostic had team-high totals in points (27) and rebounds (16). John Clifford added 10 points and seven boards and Taizo Kawabe scored eight.
Former NBA guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who’s averaging 17.1 points per game for the Hannaryz, missed his third straight game (all losses) due to a torn left calf muscle. The 40-year-old is expected to be sidelined for a month.
In Kyushu, Michael Parker scored the final two baskets in overtime, guiding the Rizing Fukuoka to a 76-75 road win over the Oita HeatDevils.
Oita’s Yukinori Suzuki forced OT by tying the score at 72-72 with 6 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
In the bonus period, neither team scored until Mike Bell gave the HeatDevils (7-13) a 75-72 lead on a three-point play with 2:49 left.
Forty seconds later, Parker pulled the Rizing (14-8) within one. He added another basket with 1:08 to play.
Parker, who finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds, is the league’s No. 1 scorer (27.4 ppg) after winning the scoring title last season. Richard Ford Jr. chipped in with 12 points and 12 rebounds, Tsuyoshi Kawazura had eight points, nine boards and seven assists and Kohei Mitomo scored nine.
Bell paced Oita with 23 points, Matt Lottich had 21 and Kimitake Sato 15. Ricky Woods pulled down 18 boards to go along with eight points.