The Sendai 89ers are the first bj-league team to be 2-0 this season. A pair of expansion teams, the Shinshu Brave Warriors and Yokohama B-Corsairs, meanwhile, are 1-1 after the league’s first weekend of play.
The 89ers, led by new coach Bob Pierce, beat the first-year Iwate Big Bulls 74-61 on Sunday before a crowd of 2,414 in Morioka. That puts them atop the 10-team Eastern Conference standings entering a bye week.
After the game, Pierce praised his opponent for a hard-fought game.
“First of all, great game plan by Iwate,” Pierce said. “They had us off balance from the beginning.” He added that a pair of Big Bulls players, Iwate natives Yoshiaki Yamamoto (14 points, 2-for-5 on 3-pointers) and Makoto Sawaguchi (12 points, 3-for-4 from long range), “kept hitting big shots.”
Experience was a key factor for the 89ers in this game, as Takehiko Shimura, Hikaru Kusaka and Takuya Komoda energized the team. Komoda scored 12 points in the first half.
“That effort turned a third-quarter deficit back into a two-point lead (53-51) going into the fourth quarter,” Pierce noted.
For Iwate coach Vlasios Vlaikidis, trailing by two points entering the final stanza was respectable. He kept his expansion team in the game, but Sendai pulled away at the end.
“The players were really confident that we finally had this game figured out,” Pierce said.
In Sendai’s big fourth quarter, this confident play included three 3-pointers by 89ers forward Dan Fitzgerald and Rashaad Singleton’s four blocks. Johnny Dukes’ all-around effort (18 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two blocks and one steal) and what Pierce described as “ice water in the vein” shots by Kusaka and Shimura helped the 89ers seal the victory.
“A game that looked like it might be a loss ended up a win because of the poise and effort of our players,” Pierce said.
The 89ers’ O’Neal Mims had eight points and 10 rebounds before an ankle injury forced him to leave the court late in the game. Then Singleton, a game-altering figure on defense, stepped in to play a pivotal role in the fourth quarter for the 89ers.
Shawn Malloy scored 10 points for Iwate (0-2), while Shawn Coleman added nine and Matthew Smith had seven.
Sendai held a 53-33 rebounding edge in the series finale.
B-Corsairs 69, Phoenix 63
In Yokohama, Justin Burrell scored 20 points, Marcus Simmons had 18 and Kenji Yamada chipped in with 13 points and three steals as the B-Corsairs bounced back from a one-point overtime loss in their series opener against two-time defending champion Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.
Center Chas McFarland grabbed a team-best 11 rebounds and scored eight points and Masayuki Kabaya dished out six assists for the B-Corsairs. who face the Saitama Broncos next weekend on the road.
Yokohama trailed 30-22 at halftime.
For the Phoenix, Wayne Arnold was the top scorer (17 points) and rebounder (12 boards). Teammates James Peters and Jeffrey Parmer scored 12 points apiece and veteran forward Shoji Nakanishi added 11.
Hamamatsu was 5-for-21 on 3-point shots.
After the game, B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary said, “We’re very happy to bring the first winning game to the B-Corsairs organization and the city of Yokohama. We’re satisfied in the fact we won (today) after losing a game last night we felt we should have one. But we also realize we have a lot of work to do.”
He added: “Tonight we got good contributions from all our players, especially Justin Burrell, Marcus Simmons and Kenji Yamada.”
Brave Warriors 86, Albirex BB 81
In Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, Shinshu rebounded from a 23-point loss in the series opener to beat Niigata.
Lee Roberts poured in 24 points and 10 boards to lead the visitors. He also had nine turnovers. For Brave Warriors coach Motofumi Aoki’s club, Edward Morris added 18 points and Tyler Hughes scored 14, hauled in six rebounds and blocked four shots to go along with four steals. Former Albirex guard Takato Saito had 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including a pair of 3s, and six assists. Veteran guard Takanori Goya, who has played for Toyama, Fukuoka, Osaka and Tokyo, added eight points, four rebunds, four assists and two steals off the bench.
The teams combined for 47 turnovers, including Shinshu’s 25.
Albirex guard Kimitake Sato had a team-high 18 points on 8-for-14 shooting, forward Erron Maxey had 17 points and center Chris Holm, who spent the past three seasons with Sendai, had a 16-point, 18-rebound effort. James Keefe chipped in with 13 points off the bench.
Niigata missed 17 of its 19 3-point shots as new coach Matt Garrison’s club fell to 1-1.