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Apache start strong, hold off Evessa in fourth quarter to sweep series

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After needing late-game magic, all-out hustle and a bit of luck to triumph on Tuesday, the Tokyo Apache relied on old-school smarts to hold off the Osaka Evessa on Wednesday night.

The Apache stayed poised in crunch time and beat the visitors 84-77 to complete a two-game sweep at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2

“We’ve had an up-and-down season and . . . we’ve been working very hard in practice and trying to win (using) an inside-outside game,” said Tokyo point guard Byron Eaton, who scored a game-high 32 points, made 9 of 10 shots from 2-point range and sank a trio of 3-pointers.

The Apache (18-10) won their fourth straight game. Cohey Aoki, meanwhile, added 19 points for the hosts and center Robert Swift had 14 points and nine boards.

For Osaka (21-13), Lynn Washington had a team-best 21 points, but was 1-for-7 on 3s and Lawrence Blackledge had 20 points. The Evessa were 15-for-28 at the free-throw line.

“Tough game for us. I think we came out a little bit flat,” Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell said, adding that poor free-throw shooting was a key factor in defeat.

With Eaton coming in as a reserve, the Apache have thrived in recent games, Blackwell noted, saying his team “just made it easy for him” on offense.

Eaton, no stranger to late-game heroics, made a tough layup and a free throw to complete a three-point play and tie the score at 70-70 with 5:18 remaining. The Apache had trailed by seven points about 90 seconds earlier.

A day earlier, the Evessa led by 19 points at about the same point in the game.

Following a break in the action with 4:02 to play, Washington missed the front end of a one-and-one, then Aoki sank a pull-up jumper to tie it at 72-72.

“I need to start making those free throws,” said Washington, who was 6-for-10 at the line.

“But we’ll be fine,” he added.

Jeremy Tyler, who scored 10 points, made a spot-up jumper from the baseline and Eaton swished a 3 to put Tokyo ahead 77-72 with about 2 minutes left.

Washington missed two 3s at the other end on Osaka’s next trip down the floor, with Hirohisa Takada leaping high to snare the offensive board to create a second scoring chance.

With 59.3 seconds left, Tokyo still held a five-point lead. Osaka standout Billy Knight’s 3 was off the mark with about 50 seconds to play.

Eaton made the first of two free throws to stretch the lead to 78-72, then Washington’s jam made it a four-point game.

In the bonus, Aoki drained two free throws to make it 80-74 with 29.6 seconds left, and Tokyo held on for the win.

“That’s a really nice win for us — two in a row against Osaka,” Apache coach Bob Hill said, adding that “I thought we got off to a much better start in the game than I anticipated.”

The Evessa led 58-55 after three periods, capitalizing on Tokyo’s seven turnovers in the 10-minute quarter.

“For me, it’s about keeping that focus for 40 minutes,” Blackwell said later, which his team didn’t do in the fourth quarter in the series finale.

Eaton flushed a 3-pointer to increase the hosts’ lead to 36-23 just before the midway point of the second quarter.

The Evessa fell behind 41-26, but chipped away at the deficit and Blackledge and Takada drained 3s on their final possessions of the half to cut it to 43-36 at the break. Takada’s long 3 beat the buzzer.

Eaton had 18 first-half points and shot 7-for-9 from the field, including 6-for-6 on his 2-point attempts, to top the scoring chart before the intermission. Blackledge had 14 first-half points (5-for-5 from the field, including two 3s) for Osaka.