After a spirited home opener, the Tokyo Apache struggled to play consistently for 40 minutes in their 84-69 loss Friday to the Oita HeatDevils.
Oita bounced back from Thursday’s 13-point loss and improved to 10-14, including 2-2 against Eastern Conference clubs.
Tokyo (7-7) faced a 61-53 deficit entering the fourth quarter, with the hosts cutting it to single digits after Kendall Dartez knocked down a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the third at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.
The fourth quarter needed to be played to make it official and send HeatDevils coach L.J. Hepp’s charges packing with a collective smile on their faces.
Hepp praised his players’ efforts, especially in the rebounding department.
“That was a big key for the win tonight,” he said, adding that the decision to give post players Damian Johnson, Taj Finger and Rolando Howell major minutes improved the team’s size and rebounding a night after a 24-rebound deficit against Tokyo.
By giving those three expanded playing time, Oita opted to reduce the minutes of leading scorer/floor general Matt Lottich, a 193-cm veteran whom Hepp called a genuine “team player” who’s concerned with victories, first and foremost. Hepp dubbed it a “strategic move,” and it paid off.
Oita held a 47-39 edge on the boards in the rematch. Howell led the HeatDevils with 18 points, followed by Kimitake Sato’s 17 and Kohei Mitomo’s 13.
Cohey Aoki paced the Apache with 19 points and Byron Eaton added 15. Tokyo shot 15-for-37 from inside the 3-point arc.
Apache coach Bob Hill was not pleased with his team’s effort.
“I thought we were a step behind them the whole night,” Hill said. “A full step behind them. We weren’t anything like we were last night.
“We couldn’t make a shot, couldn’t get a (defensive) stop and couldn’t get to the foul line.” Johnson’s basket gave Oita a 67-56 cushion with 7:08 to play. With an official break in the action at 5:30, the score read this way: HeatDevils 67, Apache 58. At the break, Hill gathered his charges together to draw up a few plays before they attempted a comeback in the game’s final minutes.
Tokyo fought hard to bounce back in crunch time, but failed to make enough shots down the stretch. Eaton was whistled for a charge driving near midcourt with 3:33 to play and a chorus of boos were heard by the home crowd. It appeared to be the wrong call.
“That was terrible, you know it, I know it,” a visibly agitated Hill said to referee David Law after the play.
The HeatDevils grabbed a 76-64 lead on a Lottich 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining. Mitomo made it a 14-point game on a pair of free throws less than a minute later.
The HeatDevils’ offense played stronger in the opening minutes and the visitors went ahead 12-5 on Kimitake Sato’s 3-pointer at the 3:18 mark.
The Apache, who trailed 16-10 after one quarter and made 4 of 18 shots from the field in that span, fell behind 20-10 when Hiroki Sato drained a jumper early in the second.
Mike Chappell’s old-fashioned 3-point play cut the lead to 20-13. Takanori Goya’s off-balance leaner made it 20-15 with 7:30 left in the second quarter.
Chappell’s driving layup and free throw cut the margin to 22-21 at the 6:09 mark, as an 11-2 spurt turned the tide in the second quarter.
The HeatDevils stretched the lead back to seven on Hiroki Sato’s layup moments after he drained a 3-pointer.
It was an up-and-down opening half before a meager crowd in the hundreds. There were stretches of mediocrity performance-wise with small spurts of quality from both teams.
Oita, the aggressor far more frequently than the hosts, took a 41-30 lead into the locker room at halftime. Hepp’s club appeared more energized in the opening half, as evidenced by a half-closing stretch with three baskets in the final 1:07 by Hiroki Sato, Mitomo and Kimitake Sato in succession, the final of which beat the buzzer to close out the half on a layup.
Three Oita players wound up with double-doubles, a revealing sign about the team’s productivity on both sides of the court. Johnson had a team-best 11 boards for the HeatDevils and Howell and Finger pulled down 10.