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Apache find rhythm to rally past Grouses

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The Tokyo Apache offense heated up in the fourth quarter and their defense made several terrific plays to punctuate a game-changing spurt in a 77-74 triumph on Thursday over the Toyama Grouses at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

Staring at a scoreboard that saw it trailing 62-50 early in the fourth quarter, Tokyo (18-26) used a 17-2 run to seize momentum. Julius Ashby ignited the run for the Apache, scoring on a tip-in. Cohey Aoki followed with a 3-pointer and a breakaway layup after a Grouses turnover.

Then Michael Chappell quickly joined the scoring spree, with an inside hoop. Jerrell Smith’s powerful slam dunk and subsequent free throw capped the crowd-pleasing run.

The Grouses (15-29) returned the favor, rallying back to tie it 70-70 on a Bilal Abdullah layup. Ashby made the front end of a one-and-one to put Tokyo ahead 71-70, then the Grouses regained the lead on Brandon Thomas’ driving layup.

The Apache kept their cool, however, letting Aoki do what he does best: take over in the fourth quarter. The ball wound up in his hands seconds later and he drained a nothing-but-net jumper from the left baseline to put the hosts ahead 73-72 with 1:16 left.

Aoki had 12 fourth-quarter points in Tokyo’s 77-69 victory on Wednesday. He finished Thursday’s rematch with 13 points in the last period, including four victory-clinching free throws in the final 22 seconds, and 23 points overall.

Tokyo was 9-for-15 from the field and 10-for-11 at the free-throw line in the final quarter while outscoring Toyama 29-15.

Ashby, who didn’t play Wednesday due to a one-game suspension, added 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Apache, while Smith scored 11. Jumpei Nakama and Chappell each scored eight apiece.

Abdullah paced the Grouses with 20 points, Johann Collins scored 15 and pulled down 11 rebounds. Takeshi Mito finished with 13 points and Thomas had 12 points.

The victory solidified Tokyo’s spot as the Eastern Conference’s fourth and final playoff team in the bj-league.

“We’ve been fighting all year. This was a very big game,” said Sparks, who had nine rebounds, five boards, three steals and one block to more than compensate for a 1-for-8 shooting performance in 38 gutsy minutes.

Tokyo led 33-31 at the half.

Shots were missed early and often in the first half, with the teams combining to shoot 23-for-70 from the field, including 12-for-34 for Tokyo. The teams stuck to their defensive assignments, not allowing many easy shots, but both squads also failed to convert layups and wide-open jumpers, too.