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Akita, Kyoto pull off tiebreaker wins; Niigata, Shiga earn sweeps

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Kyoto Hannaryz, Shiga Lakestars, Akita Northern Happinets and Niigata Albirex BB have all advanced to the bj-league’s conference semifinal round, and now shift their attention to their next opponents.

The Shimane Susanoo Magic, Rizing Fukuoka, Sendai 89ers and Toyama Grouses, meanwhile, are left to ponder what went wrong in the final day of their respective playoff series on Sunday.

Eight teams remain in the hunt for the 2011-12 championship, including the Eastern Conference’s Nos. 1 and 2 seeds (Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix and Yokohama B-Corsairs) and the Western Conference’s top two (Ryukyu Golden Kings and Osaka Evessa).

In the East semifinals, the B-Corsairs will play host to the third-seeded Happinets on Thursday and Friday at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium. Both games will tip off at 7:30 p.m. The two-time defending champion Phoenix will take on the fourth-seeded Albirex on Saturday and Sunday, 6:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., respectively.

In the West, the second-seeded Osaka Evessa will face the visiting Hannaryz, the third seed, on Saturday and Sunday (6 p.m. and 1 p.m. starting times). The first-place Golden Kings will play host to the fourth-seeded Lakestars on the same days, with both games slated to begin at 1 p.m.

The conference semifinal winners will move on to the Final Four at Ariake Colosseum on May 19-20.

But first, it’s time to recap Sunday’s playoff action.

Northern Happinets 72, 89ers 38

Northern Happinets 17, 89ers 14 (mini-game)

In Akita, the hosts raced out to a 20-2 lead after the first quarter of Game 2, and Sendai never recovered.

The Happinets dropped the series opener 79-77, with 89ers center Rashaad Singleton’s game-ending dunk giving the visitors a dramatic victory in the series opener.

This one was never in doubt.

Lionel Green sank four 3-pointers en route to a team-high 14 points for Akita. Ricky Woods netted 11 points and Yuki Kikuchi, Shigehiro Taguchi and E.J. Drayton each had nine points. Mychal Kearse dished out six assists and Kyle Swanston had five.

Sendai shot 12-for-47 from the field and committed 23 turnovers. Takuya Komoda led the 89ers with eight points, Johnny Dukes had seven points, nine rebounds and three steals and Filip Toncinic scored six points.

The 89ers established a record for fewest points in a bj-league game, and then after a break they went back out on the court and played the Happinets in a 10-minute mini-tiebreaker game to determine which team would advance to the next round.

In the mini-game, Sendai held an 11-5 lead after the first five-minute period. Akita had the stronger offense over the final five minutes, outscoring the visitors 12-3 to eke out a three-point triumph.

Kearse scored nine of the Happinets’ 17 points in the mini-game. Dukes had nine of the 89ers’ 14 points in that span.

Sendai’s outside shooting (1-for-10 on 3s) proved costly with the season on the line in the tiebreaker.

And so, when it was over, Akita coach Kazuo Nakamura is one step closer to another Final Four berth, after having previously guided Hamamatsu to Ariake Colosseum in each of the previous three seasons before replacing Bob Pierce, the current Sendai coach, in Akita after the 2010-11 campaign.

“Akita had a great crowd, and they certainly were a factor in the results, which is what home courts and playoff basketball are all about,” Pierce told The Japan Times. “But I can’t remember the last time I coached a game, and didn’t try to win, especially when coming back and making these kinds of games close is what we’ve been doing all season. But because we had to immediately play the 10 minute mini-game, we had to decide pretty early whether to play to win, or rest starters and try to win the mini-game.

“Once it became clear that we weren’t making shots, or getting to the line, nothing to do but wait for the 40 minutes to run out. And so we set the bj-league record for fewest points. … That wasn’t fun.”

Even so, the 89ers nearly ended the hosts’ season in the mini-game.

“Our strategy almost worked as we had an 11-5 lead halfway through the mini-game, but some ill-advised shots and a turnover let Akita come back and we never regained our poise,” Pierce said. “The fact that Akita shot 14 free throws in 10 minutes and we only shot three didn’t help, so our season ended with that 10-minute, 17-14 loss.

“Sadly, this format favors the deeper team with more players, and that’s certainly not us. We’ve spent the last month or so just hoping to have enough healthy bodies to practice or play the weekend games, and watching us limp through the last 5 minutes of the mini-game, it was obvious our time had run out.”

Albirex BB 84, Grouses 82

In Niigata, center Chris Holm scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds as the hosts edged Toyama.

First-year Albirex coach Matt Garrison’s club has made balanced scoring a priority all season, and that tactic worked to its advantage in the series finale. Yuichi Ikeda and Nile Murry each had 13-point efforts, Kimitake Sato scored 12 points and Erron Maxey finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Bennett Davis chipped in with seven points for Niigata, which was 25-for-37 at the free-throw line. Dwight Gordon supplied five assists with zero turnovers.

Niigata took a 47-32 advantage into the third quarter.

Masashi Joho scored a game-high 24 points for the Grouses. Brian Harper added 17 points, Devin Searcy had 16 points and 13 rebounds and Ira Brown scored 14 points and hauled in 14 rebounds.

“Rebounding was (the) key,” Garrison said after the game. “We played good one-on-one defense. We also attacked the boards. They are such a big, strong team, so we needed everyone on the glass.

“We missed a lot of free throws so it was close,” he added. “…My Japanese players were great both days. They really fought hard for 80 minutes.”

Garrison expects the Grouses to be a rising force in the East next season.

“Toyama is a great team and are well coached (by Kazuaki Shimoji),” he said. “They will be even better next year. They have great guards in Joho and (Takeshi) Mito.”

Lakestars 69, Rizing 62

In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, Josh Peppers scored 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting and Julius Ashby had 21 points, 13 rebounds and five assists as the Lakestars completed a series sweep over Fukuoka.

Ray Nixon contributed 10 points and six assists for Shiga, while Peppers had seven rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Palmer, named to the league’s Best Five squad earlier in the week, paced the Rizing with 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals, and Jermaine Dearman and Jun Nakanishi both had 12-point afternoons. Gary Hamilton grabbed 10 rebounds in the loss.

Fukuoka’s Carlos Dixon was held to six points on 3-for-13 shooting and Akitomo Takeno scored three points and was 1-for-10 from the field.

Susanoo Magic 86, Hannaryz 84

Hannaryz 24, Susanoo Magic 23 (mini-game)

In Kyoto, Michael Parker and B.J. Puckett had 20 points apiece and Shimane edged the Hannaryz to force the mini-game tiebreaker.

Edward Yamamoto, Jumpei Nakama and Jeral Davis all had 13-point games in the heated 40-minute contest, with all four quarters decided by one point. Yamamoto also dished out six assists.

Kyoto missed 10 of its 20 free throws, including Rick Rickert’s 2-for-9 effort.

Rickert, however, had a sensational outing: 28 points on 13-for-15 shooting from the field and 18 rebounds. Jermaine Boyette scored 16 points, Lance Allred contributed 12 points and six rebounds and Lee Cummard scored 10 points.

In the mini-game, Cummard netted 13 points and Taizo Kawabe scored six on 3-for-3 shooting. Davis put nine points on the board in the tiebreaker, Nakama contributed seven and Parker finished with five.