A spirited rivalry is developing between coaches of different generations.
Osaka Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell, a rookie mentor, guided the Western Conference All-Star squad to a last-second win over Tokyo Apache coach Bob Hill’s Eastern Conference club on Jan. 23.
A riveting chapter was added to the teams’ rich competition on Tuesday. This time, Tokyo guard Byron Eaton supplied the last-second heroics, burying a buzzer-beating 3-pointer a few steps past the halfcourt line to lead the Apache to an improbable 85-84 win. The Apache overcame a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit en route, after their offense was “stagnant” and their defense was “a step behind for most of the first half and third quarter” to arguably their biggest win of first-year coach Hill’s tenure.
Eaton, who played college ball at Oklahoma State, said it was his first buzzer-beating, game-winning shot since his sophomore season, when he canned a long shot to defeat Big 12 rival Texas.
“He’s a pressure player,” Hill said. “He likes pressure.”
He added: “He won the game. He took the game over.”
Blackwell, well-versed in the intricacies of hard-nosed defense, pushed the right buttons for much of the second half in Osaka’s one-point loss to the Apache at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.
Osaka slipped to 21-12, the best record in the West. Tokyo, meanwhile, improved to 17-10 , maintaining its third-place spot in the East.
“I think that was a great example of a team not giving up. We ended up on the right side against this terrific team,” said the 62-year-old Hill, whose coaching career began several years before Blackwell was born in 1976.
“I’m not happy with the way we played, but I’m happy we got the win,” Hill said.
“We just didn’t quit. . . . We didn’t play well in any phase of the game,” he added, but was pleased with his team’s relatively low 12 turnovers.
The Evessa made nine turnovers in the fourth quarter, which fueled Tokyo’s comeback. Eaton had a jaw-dropping five fourth-quarter steals.
“We seized the momentum and took advantage of it,” Hill told reporters.
“We were fortunate to get them to turn the ball over,” he added, crediting his team’s late press and on-ball defense on inbounds passes.
Eaton, playing as a backup in recent games, had a game-high 25 points, 19 of them in the fourth. Michael Chappell added 15 and Cohey Aoki scored 14. Center Robert Swift added 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
For the Evessa, Lynn Washington scored 17, Hirohisa Takada had 13 and Wayne Marshall scored 12.
As part of a 16-3 run, the energized Evessa appeared to put the game out of reach, taking a 78-59 lead with just over 5 minutes left. Lockdown defense played a vital part in the visitors’ resurgence.
Hill looked irritated at his team for missed defensive assignments, bad shooting and a failure to match Osaka’s efficiency in all phases of the game in crunch time. That was before a 13-0 run fueled a thrilling comeback.
Aoki’s steal and two foul shots slashed the deficit to 78-66 with 3:29 to play. Tokyo trailed 81-73 with 1:20 left.
Chappell’s two free throws made it a two-possession game — 81-75 — with 1:09 remaining. Seconds later, Eaton’s steal off an inbounds and a layup raised the collective heartbeat of the Osaka faithful, as the lead dropped to 81-77.
Consecutive steals and layups by Eaton and Kensuke Tanaka made it 81-81. Eaton missed a free throw with 49.9 seconds left, though, and Kevin Tyner scored a go-ahead layup for Osaka.
With 8.8 seconds left, Eaton missed the first free throw and hit the second. That cut it to 83-82.
Washington made the first of two free throws with 2.3 seconds left, giving Osaka an 84-82 lead. But it was short-lived.
Blackwell said his team “panicked a little bit and made some bad passes (in the fourth quarter). . . . We just seemed real tentative at the end.”
Shiga fires Ishibashi
The Shiga Lakestars, losers of five straight games, fired coach Takatoshi Ishibashi, bj-league sources said Tuesday.
Hirokazu Nema, Ishibashi’s assistant, will be named the interim head coach, a person with knowledge of the situation said.
The bj-league club, which has been one of the nine-team Western Conference’s top teams this season, is currently tied for third place with the Rizing Fukuoka (19-15), but trails the Ryukyu Golden Kings and Osaka Evessa in the standings through Sunday.