HIRATSUKA, KANAGAWA PREF. – For a professional sports team, playing better in a season’s late stages is more important than doing so at the beginning.
The expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs are doing precisely that, making improvements that enable them to play their best ball when it matters most and be a factor in the hunt for a title.
The B-Corsairs extended their winning streak to seven games, beating the Sendai 89ers 63-54 on Saturday at Hiratsuka Gymnasium.
Indeed, this team is playing well right now, B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary said.
“But we are just really focused on the next game,” Geary said.
He added: “I thought it was a good physical battle. It’s nice to come away with the victory, and it puts us one step closer to our regular-season goal of finishing strong.”
The teams meet again next weekend in Sendai in the final weekend of the 2011-12 regular season.
The B-Corsairs are 20-8 in the 2012 portion of their schedule.
Yokohama went 16-10 at home in the regular season.
All-Star Justin Burrell paced the B-Corsairs with 21 points and 14 rebounds and Draelon Burns poured in 13 points, including a pair of 3s. Taketo Aoki finished with eight points on 3-for-3 shooting, while Chas McFarland grabbed 10 rebounds.
The series ended with the 89ers failing to reach 20 points in each of the eight quarters.
“I was telling the team in the locker room the sign of a good playoff team is the ability to win games high scoring or low scoring, and tonight it wasn’t a pretty affair but we found a way to get it done, and our big guys, Kaba (Masayuki Kabaya) JB (Burrell) and the others stepped up as usual,” Geary said.
After a series-opening, 76-59 setback, Sendai (25-25) approached this game like any other.
“We thought we were going to win,” 89ers coach Bob Pierce said, while admitting captain Takehiko Shimura’s absence was a factor in the offense’s mediocre play, but not the only factor.
“We missed him greatly,” Pierce said of the veteran point guard. “His leadership on the court, it’s not always measured in points, but how aggressive our team plays. That was tough. Obviously, Yokohama is a very good defensive team, and Justin Burrell, if he’s not a candidate for MVP then no one is.”
Shimura sustained a head injury after crashing into the basket support in the third quarter on Friday. He went to the hospital, but was back on the bench for Saturday’s game but didn’t play to rest after the injury.
Burrell made several timely baskets and carried his team from an emotional standpoint, too, never allowing the 89ers to pull ahead in the second half.
The B-Corsairs (29-21) got a steal from Burns and a quick inside hoop from McFarland for the first highlights of the third quarter.
Sendai’s offense started to click early in the third, with Johnny Dukes (off-balance bank shot) and Dan Fitzgerald (straight-away 3-pointer) hitting big shots to bring the visitors within 41-34. The B-Corsairs maintained their poise and held onto the lead.
The 89ers again cut it to seven — 48-41 — on Filip Toncinic’s baseline jumper in the quarter’s closing seconds.
In the fourth quarter, defensive stopper Marcus Simmons provided a big spark, a 3-pointer to increase Yokohama’s lead to 53-41 at the 8:53 mark. Entering the series, Simmons was 12-for-65 on 3-point shots.
Dukes had trimmed the lead to eight, but Sendai had a pair of quick baskets, including Burrell’s slam dunk at the 2:55 mark, for a 63-51 lead. Takuya Komoda’s 3 brought the visitors back within striking distance, 63-54. Dukes mised two free throws with 1:17 left, and Yokohama completed the series sweep.
“When the team’s playing well, I have high spirits,” said Burell after a two-dunk performance.
“I was just excited today. I had a lot of fun yesterday and wanted to have fun today,” he added.
For the 89ers, Dukes had a team-high 15 points and Fitzgerald added 13. Komoda finished with eight points on 3-for-12 shooting.
The B-Corsairs pieced together a 7-0 run to open the second quarter, taking a 26-12 advantage. An Aoki 3-pointer followed by consecutive in-the-paint buckets in-the-paint by Burrell and Aoki prompted Sendai to call a timeout.
At halftime, the scoreboard read this way: Yokohama 37, Sendai 27.
Elsewhere in the bj-league, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix blasted the Takamatsu Five Arrows, winning 120-64. Takamatsu lost its 22nd game in a row.
The Saitama Broncos beat the Oita HeatDevils 89-81, the Kyoto Hannaryz defeated the Osaka Evessa 63-61 and the Ryukyu Golden Kings routed the Chiba Jets 114-75.
Also, the Shiga Lakestars beat the Niigata Albirex BB 84-71 and the Miyazaki Shining Suns topped the Toyama Grouses 71-64.
The Rizing Fukuoka defeated the Shinshu Brave Warriors 90-68, while the Iwate Big Bulls topped the Akita Northern Happinets 84-79.