The Ryukyu Golden Kings have accomplished a number of firsts in their history, including this: They were the first time other than the Osaka Evessa to win a bj-league title. They also became the first professional sports team in Okinawa in 2007.
On Saturday, they became the first team in the 2011-12 season to reach 20 wins, doing so by edging the Shiga Lakestars 84-81 in Yasu, Shiga Prefecture.
The Western Conference-leading Golden Kings (20-5) have won seven straight games. Dai Oketani’s club has exhibited the patience, poise and depth of a championship team since the season started, and has improved along the way.
Anthony McHenry paced Ryukyu with 17 points, center Dillion Sneed added 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting in his season debut and Naoto Kosuge scored 15.
Josh Peppers led Shiga (16-9) with 19 points, Ray Nixon had 17 points with nine boards, Julius Ashby scored 15 and Yu Okada added 13 as both teams begin their quest in the season’s second half to reach the Final Four.
HeatDevils 92, Evessa 82
In Moriguchi, Osaka Prefecture, center Taj Finger, a Stanford University product, made his season debut a successful, scoring 23 points to lead Oita to a series-opening win.
Finger, who played for the HeatDevils (6-19) before the March 11 earthquake last season, grabbed seven rebounds and made 9 of 12 shots from the field and 5 of 7 free throws in 28 minutes. Frontcourt mate T.J. Cummings added 18 points and 15 rebounds and Naoto Takushi, Wendell White and Kohei Mitomo each scored 13 points. Takushi registered eight assists in the win and raked in eight rebounds along with two steals.
For Osaka, Lynn Washington, the All-Star Game MVP for the second straight season, had 24 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Cohey Aoki and Wayne Marshall each scored 13 points for Osaka (17-6), and forward Mike Bell finished with 11 points and eight boards, three assists and three steals in his Evessa debut. Daisuke Tamura added seven points for the hosts.
Osaka (17-6) trailed 68-58 entering the fourth quarter, and never regained the lead the rest of the way.
Albirex BB 94, B-Corsairs 78
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Erron Maxey scored 21 points, Yuichi Ikeda poured in 19 on 8-for-15 shooting and the Albirex played an impressive game in the series opener.
Nile Murry (14 points, nine assists) and Chris Holm (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Shuhei Komatsu (12 points), Hirotaka Kondo (five assists in 17 minutes) made major contributions in the victory for Niigata, now 16-9 overall, including 9-4 at home, under first-year coach Matt Garrison.
All-Star forward Justin Burrell was the B-Corsairs’ high scorer with 20 points and 11 rebounds and Kenji Yamada scored 16 points for Yokohama (11-14).
Phoenix 80, Big Bulls 64
In Hamamatsu, Jermaine Dixon dished out 13 assists and the Phoenix rolled to a win over Iwate, spoiling Shinji Tomiyama’s debut as acting head coach.
Jeffrey Parmer scored 16 points and hauled in 12 rebounds for the two-time defending champions and newcomer Lawrence Blackledge and Masahiro Oguchi each scored 14 for Hamamatsu (15-10).
The Phoenix outscored the out-of-towners 27-14 in the pivotal fourth quarter.
Thomas Kennedy led the expansion Big Bulls (7-20) with 19 points and Gordon Klaiber had a 13-point effort. Forward Shawn Malloy added 11 points and 11 boards and Atsushi Nogami scored seven, while Yoshiaki Yamamoto handed out six assists.
Hannaryz 80, Five Arrows 58
In Muko, Kyoto Prefecture, led by balanced scoring, the hosts hammered Takamatsu in the series opener.
Senegalese big man Babacar Camara had a team-high 20 points for the Hannaryz (17-6). Former NBA center Lance Allred notched a double-double (12 points, 12 boards) and Taizo Kawabe scored 11 points.
Paul Butorac paced the Five Arrows (1-24) with 17 points.
Northern Happinets 99, Jets 78
In Yachiyo, Chiba Prefecture, Ricky Woods scored 22 points and Yuki Kikuchi’s hot perimeter shooting led Akita to a sweep.
Kikuchi scored 19 points and drained 6 of 9 3-point shots, giving him 11-for-17 from beyond the arc in the series.
Stanley Ocitti scored 18 points, Kazuhiro Shoji had 15 points and seven assists and Mychal Kearse added 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals. All told, the first-place Happinets (17-9) collected 18 steals.
For Chiba (10-14), Maurice Hargrow was the leading scorer (23 points) and Jamel Staten finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
“Akita outplayed us all weekend,” Jets coach Eric Gardow told The Japan Times. “Their matchup zone hurt us and we turned the ball over too many times (26 on Saturday).
“Our 3-point defense was simply obviously nonexistent as they shot 16-for-26. … We will take the positives in that this is the best we have shot from the free-throw line (15-for-16) all year.”
Rizing 74, Shining Suns 70
In Fukuoka, Kevin Palmer’s 26-point, 13-rebound performance led the Rizing to a narrow victory over Miyazaki.
Akitomo Takeno scored 12 points, Jun Nakanishi had 11 and Carlos Dixon added 10 for Fukuoka (16-9).
For the Shining Suns (12-15), forward O’Neal “Trey” Mims finished with 15 points and 14 boards, Taishiro Shimizu scored 12 and Dexter Lyons had 10.
Grouses 77, 89ers 58
In Shinminato, Toyama Prefecture, center Devin Searcy’s strong effort inside (18 points, 13 rebounds) and 16 points apiece from Takeshi Mito and Ira Brown carried the Grouses to a win over Sendai.
Dan Fitzgerald, who put 16 points on the board, was the leading scorer for the 89ers (12-13). Johnny Dukes scored 13 points and Rashaad Singleton had 11 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.
“Toyama played good defense and they beat us on the offensive glass,” Sendai coach Bob Pierce said, citing Toyama’s 28 offensive boards to Sendai’s 17.
Susanoo Magic 83, Brave Warriors 66
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Michael Parker had 22 points and 10 rebounds and B.J. Puckett scored 15 as the hosts defeated Shinshu.
Jeral Davis added 14 points and four blocks and Reggie Golson had 12 points, nine rebounds and six assists for Shimane (14-11). Floor leader Edward Yamamoto contributed eight points, six assists and three steals for Zeljko Pavlicevic’s club.
Derek Raivio led the Brave Warriors (11-14) with 23 points, T yler Hughes added 12 points and 13 boards and Takato Saito scored eight points and had four of Shinshu’s six assists.