KASUKABE, Saitama Pref. — The best location to shoot a basketball is from the free-throw line, as smart coaches will tell you, emphasizing the word “free” and reminding you that defenders can’t challenge your shot when the clock is stopped and you’re at the line.
Sendai 89ers guard Mac Hopson illustrated this point in a big way on Sunday against the Saitama Broncos, sinking 14 of 16 foul shots, 12 of 14 in the fourth quarter, in a vintage 40-point, nine-assist afternoon to lead his team to a 95-86 victory and a two-game sweep at Kasukabe City Gymnasium.
Hopson, the bj-league’s second-leading scorer (21.3 points per game), had at least 30 points for the sixth time this season. He’s started all 36 games for Sendai (24-12) and finished in single digits only twice this season.
Other than a mediocre second quarter when they turned the ball over nine times, the 89ers were in control with a well-executive game plan and efficiency at both ends of the court for most of Sunday’s game.
The Broncos (14-24) only led on three occasions — 2-0, 6-5 and 43-42 — and trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half.
After Saitama took a one-point lead for the final time, Hopson — who else? — made an inside basket while drawing a foul and drained a free throw to initiate a 10-2 Sendai run, give his team a 52-45 lead and get it back on track.
In the fourth quarter, Saitama pulled within 82-78 on former NBA point guard Kenny Satterfield’s 3-pointer with 2:04 remaining.
The 89ers then called a timeout, refocused and closed out the game with a common purpose: to nab a victory.
In the final 1:34, the 24-year-old rookie Hopson, displaying the poise of a 10-year veteran, sank 12 free throws.
Sendai had 20 turnovers, a few too many, longtime coach Honoo Hamaguchi said, but the visitors excelled in other aspects of the game, holding a 51-37 edge in rebounds, with center Chris Holm grabbing 19 boards for the second consecutive game. The big fellow also had nine points. Versatile forward Mike Bell scored 22 points, Takuya Komoda added 11 and Lee Hye Cheon had an eight-point game.
“Our rebounding was strong today,” Hamaguchi said, “and today Mac displayed patience as we ran our offense.”
The Broncos, digging a greater hole for themselves as they try to climb back into the playoff race, were inconsistent on Sunday, falling behind 29-16 after one quarter before cutting it to 42-39 at halftime.
Gordon Klaiber led Saitama with 26 points, Satterfield had a 17-point, 11-assist, five-steal effort despite battling a heel injury and a fever (he missed Saturday’s game) and high-energy forward Daiki Terashita scored 16 before fouling out and getting a well-deserved applause from the fans.
Saitama played a gritty game, picking up 17 steals, many of which came from pure hustle.
“We just didn’t get over that hump today. (But) the guys came out and worked hard,” Broncos coach Bob Nash said. “It just wasn’t quite enough. We’re working hard to try to turn this season around. We make no excuses, but when you have injuries and illness,” it affects the performance.
Nash said his team gave up too many points in transition, fast break baskets and allowed Sendai to get to the free-throw line too often. “I thought that was our Achilles heel today,” he said, while adding that the 89ers’ 23 offensive rebounds created a wealth of opportunities for second-chance points.
The 89ers, meanwhile, departed for Tohoku with positive vibes.
“From the first practice of the season until today, we’ve been getting better,” Bell said. “I still feel we have a lot of potential and we still have a lot of time to reach that potential. That’s all we are focusing on: getting better every game.”
Evessa 83, Susanoo Magic 64
In Tottori, Osaka (24-14) outscored the hosts 28-6 in the fourth quarter to complete a series sweep.
Lynn Washington had a game-high 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Evessa, Kevin Tyner scored 14 and Taiwanese center Tseng Wen-ting, a newcomer, had 10.
Takumi Ishizaki led Shimane (17-21) with 17 points.
Phoenix 82, Happinets 65
In Akita, Jeffrey Parmer scored 18 points and 10 rebounds and Jermaine Dixon chipped in with 14 points to lead Hamamatsu Higashimikawa (34-4) to a series sweep.
Paul Butorac paced the Northern Happinets (11-27) with 16 points and Will Graves had 14.
Lakestars 100, Apache 79
In Yasu, Shiga Prefecture, Josh Peppers and Gary Hamilton scored 17 points apiece, Mikey Marshall added 14 and Shinya Ogawa and Ray Schafer each finished with 10 as the hosts handed Tokyo its second loss in as many days.
The Lakestars improved to 22-16.
Robert Swift led the Apache (19-13) with 22 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Jeremy Tyler notched a double-double (14 points, 11 boards) and Cohey Aoki scored 11. Tokyo was 15-for-29 at the free-throw line.
Golden Kings 92, Rizing 79
In Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, the hosts made 10 of 19 3-points shots in the series finale.
Jeff Newton was the top scorer for Ryukyu (24-14), finishing with 22 points, followed by Carlos Dixon’s 20, Naoto Kosuge’s 16 and former league MVP David Palmer’s 12. It was Palmer’s second game after missing eight games due to a dislocated left shoulder.
For Ryukyu (21-17), Michael Parker scored 20 points and hauled in nine rebounds. Jun Nakanishi added 14 points and Nile Murry and Abdullahi Kuso had 13.
Grouses 82, Albirex BB 79 (OT)
In Toyama, Brian Harper and Makoto Kato each played all 45 minutes to help guide the hosts to a series split.
Harper finished with 22 points, 17 rebounds and four assists, Takeshi Mito scored 17, including four 3-pointers, and Matthew Kyle had 15 for the Grouses (12-24).
Julius Ashby scored a team-high 24 points for Niigata (19-17), Willie Veasley had 14 and Yuichi Ikeda 13.
Five Arrows 82, HeatDevils 77
In Takamatsu, Satoshi Takeda scored 18 points, Kirby Lemons had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Shuichi Takada contributed 15 points in a win for the hosts.
The Five Arrows improved to 9-29.
Matt Lottich led Oita (16-22) with 22 points. The HeatDevils were 4-for-20 on 3-point shots.
Hannaryz 99, Shining Suns 73
In Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, the hosts dropped their fourth straight game and lost by 26 or more points for the third time in that span.
Wendell White had a 24-point outing, Kibwe Trim scored 21, Taizo Kawabe had 18, Reggie Warren added 16 points, 11 boards and five assists and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf had seven assists.
Brandon Cole led Miyazaki (12-26) with 21 points, Elijah Palmer scored 20 and Taishiro Shimizu poured in 18.