Mission accomplished. And Nobeoka Gakuen achieved that feat in dominant fashion.
Senegalese center Bamba Diouf scored 25 points and cleared 23 rebounds, and Reo Bendorame had 22 points as the Kyushu school earned its first Winter Cup title with an 88-55 win over Jinsei Gakuen in the boys final of the 42nd All-Japan High School Tournament.
With the national championship title, Nobeoka Gakuen, which won the National Athletic Meet and Inter-High School Athletic Meet, completed the “triple crown” in the same year.
“While we couldn’t win in the Winter Cup previously, our players were really serious to finally grab one, and I think it paid off,” said Junichiro Hongo, head of the Miyazaki Prefecture delegation after the game at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Thursday.
Nobeoka Gakuen’s merciless game on both sides of the ball started from the beginning. While Bendorame helped the team get off to a strong start with his scoring, the team’s zone defense gave Jinsei Gakuen a hard time to even get near the basket.
Nobeoka Gakuen led 20-8 at the end of the first quarter, and was ahead 54-28 at halftime.
Despite the large lead, Nobeoka Gakuen didn’t get loose in the second half, and continued to make life difficult for Jinsei.
Jinsei’s tall second-year player Yuta Watanabe showed some resistance by scoring seven points in the final period, but it was too late for a dramatic comeback for the Kagawa Prefecture school.
“I think we played our own basketball today,” said senior Bendorame, who was born to a Brazilian father and a Japanese mother. “That pleased us the most.”
Nobeoka Gakuen forced 21 Jinsei Gakuen turnovers — 15 of which came from steals — limited its own to 10 and out-rebounded its opponent 57-42.
Nobeoka Gakuen had 22 offensive boards. It was one of the deciding factors in the game.
“We hardly played our ball,” Watanabe said of his school, which had never previously made the Winter Cup final eight. “From the beginning to the end, we didn’t play our game.”
Nobeoka Gakuen had three 100-point games, with at least a 23-point lead at the end of each of its five games in the tournament. But its dominance, according to Hongo and his players, started from past failures in the yearend tourney.
Last year, Nobeoka Gakuen exited the tournament after a 95-64 loss to Shiga Prefecture’s Kosen High School.
“We’ve played mainly with second-year players since last year,” Bendorame said. “We lost (in the All-Japan Tournament) but we really grew from that and it brought us all the way here.”
Captain Hiroki Iwata said: “Every year, Nobeoka Gakuen would end the year in the Winter Cup (failing to win the championship). But we’ve finally done it and I’m extremely excited about winning it with all the members of the team.”
In the third-place game, Shizuoka Prefecture’s Numazu Chuo defeated Fukuoka Ohori 90-56.
After the game, Diouf, Bendorame, Watanabe, Senegalese Cherif Sow of Numazu Chuo and Fukuoka Ohori’s Naoto Fukumoto were named to the all-tournament team.