FUNABASHI, CHIBA PREF. – Entering this season, six-time All-Star Cohey Aoki had made 1,255 baskets — plus 983 free throws, while converting an astonishing 89.2 percent of his shots at the foul line — in 8,642 minutes of playing time in the regular season since the league’s inception in 2005. Many of his most important points have come when the shot clock is winding down or in the closing seconds of quarters or games, and he’s often come through in the clutch.
The numbers add up to one important fact: Aoki has earned a reputation as one of the league’s most reliable scorers.
So it was only appropriate that the former Tokyo Apache icon was entrusted with the ball in his hands in crunch time once again on Sunday, this time playing for his new team, the Tokyo Cinq Reves, at Funabashi Arena.
With the score tied at 82-82 after Chiba Jets power forward Joe Werner’s layup, Tokyo called a timeout with 4.2 seconds left to draw up a play for the final sequence. Coach Motofumi Aoki, who had seen his star guard’s exploits on dozens of occasions around the league, instructed his players to get Cohey the ball.
Smart move. The ball was inbounded to Aoki, he found space to operate and released a mid-range jumper that found nothing but net with 0.3 seconds left on the game clock. Chiba’s desperation heave was off the mark. And the scoreboard posted these numbers a split-second later: Tokyo 84, Chiba 82.
The first victory in Cinq Reves history came down to Aoki doing what he does best. Of course, to avid fans, that buzzer-beating shot will be remembered as a typical Aoki production.
Wearing a baseball cap and smiling in his post-game interview, Aoki simply stated, “I have confidence in my shot.”
Aoki contributed 14 points, four assists and four steals in his first victory in a Tokyo uniform since March 2011. (After the Apache folded, the star guard played for the Osaka Evessa last season.)
“I knew that he was a legend (in this league), Cinq Reves center Jonathan Jones said of Aoki. “And just being around him now these past two or three weeks I can see that he’s a great player and a good leader.”
With the game on the line, “he just hit that shot like it was easy, like you do it in your sleep,” Jones said, describing Aoki’s antics.
“Coach was like, ‘Just get the ball in Cohey’s hands because he’s our best decision maker,’ and we knew that he was going to make a good decision with the ball down the stretch,” Jones said.
“He just made a good step-back (move) and pulled up and made the jumper,”
Before a lively crowd, the Sunday rematch — a day after Chiba defeated Tokyo 108-86 and got 27 points, including 6-for-6 on 3s, from Marquin Chandler — pitted Jets coach Shinji Tomiyama against one of his mentors. The younger bench boss had worked under Aoki on the Apache bench in 2009-10.
In the first quarter, Chiba jumped out to a 9-0 lead on a Reina Itakura 3-pointer before Tokyo mounted an early comeback, with Rasheem Barrett’s jumper igniting the effort.
Tokyo fought back, and capitalized on how the referees were calling the game. The Cinq Reves attempted 18 free throws (17 were good) in the opening quarter alone, notably Jones, who was 5-for-6 in the period, and Aoki, who was 6-for-6. They led 26-22 entering the second quarter.
The refs eased up on the whistle in the second period, and the Jets adjusted, too. After being whistled for 11 first-quarter fouls, Chiba had four in the next quarter.
Chiba’s D’Andre Bell took over offensively with a 12-point second quarter, and Tokyo trailed 46-44 at halftime.
The second half exhibited fast-paced basketball featuring two teams putting the building blocks in place for a long, 52-game season.
After his first win at the helm, Aoki described it as a “wonderful game” and appeared genuinely excited for the home fans. The veteran coach said effective man-to-man defense got the job done, but there’s room for improvement in all areas.
“The Jets played a hard, disciplined game,” he said of his foe.
Tomiyama agreed the game was a well-played contest, saying it was a “super game” and a “constant challenge” for his players. He praised the effort given by the Cinq Reves for their inside play and energy.
After the loss, Tomiyama said the focus now shifts to preparing his team to play the undefeated Iwate Big Bulls, who he coached last season, this coming weekend on the road.
Jones delivered a strong effort in 38-plus minutes, finishing with a game-best 23 points, including 9-for-14 at the line, and seven rebounds. Fellow big man Jared Carter added 13 points and 15 rebounds off the bench, while former Osaka Evessa player Hiroshisa Takada scored 10 points and three 3s, none bigger than his go-ahead 3 that put Tokyo ahead 82-80 with 30.4 seconds remaining.
Ilija Milutinovic, Barrett and Akihito Inoue all scored eight points apiece for Tokyo, which played aggressively on offense and got to the line repeatedly. The Cinq Reves shot 26-for-33 there; Chiba was 14-for-16.
Bell was the Jets’ top scorer with 21 points. The Georgia Tech alum also had eight rebounds and two steals. Serge Angounou poured in 20 points and blocked two shots, while Shota Isshiki had 11 points and Itakura scored nine. Chandler, not listed as injured in the boxscore, did not suit up on Sunday after a banner debut in a Jets uniform, though Bell said injuries were a factor for the team.
For Tokyo, which travels to face the Niigata Albirex BB this weekend, a first win is something to build off and use as a confidence builder.
“I think as the season goes on we’re going to develop better chemistry and with our size we’re going to be tough to guard later down the season,” said the 211-cm Jones.
Five Arrows 69, Evessa 66
In Osaka, Takamatsu has completed the improbable, matching its 2011-12 win total after two games.
Paul Williams and Masaaki Suzuki scored 14 points apiece, Brandon Penn had 13 and Dexter Lyons added 11 for the Five Arrows, who went 2-50 last season.
For the new-look Evessa, Nathan Walkup had a team-high 16 points and Masashi Obuchi scored 13.
Osaka, which suited up only three import players for the series, parted ways with point guard Temi Soyebo, a University of North Carolina-Wilmington product, earlier in the week.
Big Bulls 70, 89ers 68
In Sendai, Iwate became the first team to win four games this season by completing a series sweep over the hosts at Xebio Arena.
Guard Masato Tsukino, a 23-year-old who was a Miyazaki Shining Suns player the past two seasons, paced the Big Bulls (4-0) with 13 points on 4-for-7 shooting from the field, 4-for-4 at the line, with two steals. Lawrence Blackledge notched a double-double (11 points, 17 rebounds), while Carlos Dixon also had 11 points and Dillion Sneed scored 10 for Iwate.
Forward Karron Clarke led the 89ers with 20 points and 16 rebounds and Kevin Coble scored 11. Captain Takehiko Shimura dished out seven assists.
Sendai was 6-for-14 at the free-throw line, and fell to 1-3 on the season.
“Karron took the loss personally yesterday, and was one of many players who helped us build a 10-point lead at halftime,” 89ers coach Bob Pierce told The Japan Times after Sunday’s game. “But Iwate controlled the tempo in the second half.”
B-Corsairs 88, Broncos 71
In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, Yokohama routed the hosts for the second straight day to give coach Reggie Geary’s club a feel-good start to its second season.
Thomas Kennedy scored 22 points and Masayuki Kabaya was 5-for-10 on 3-point attempts in a 21-point outing for the B-Corsairs, who reached the Final Four as a first-year franchise in May. In the series opener, Kabaya canned 7 of 12 3s in a 24-point effort.
Draelon Burns, meanwhile, made his presence felt in every aspect of the game and recorded a triple-double (12 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists) along with three steals.
Yokohama also got a double-double from Senegalese center Pape Faye Mour (10 points, 11 rebounds) and its offensive clicked at a high level, with 31 assists on 35 field goals.
For Saitama, Randy Orr and Yuki Kitamuki scored 18 points apiece, with both going 2-for-10 from beyond the arc.
Susanoo Magic 81, Rizing 64
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Michael Parker and Brandon Freeman each scored 30 points and the hosts improved to 2-0 with a season-opening sweep of Western Conference rival Fukuoka.
B.J. Puckett grabbed 14 rebounds for the Magic and Parker completed his double-double with 11 boards.
For the Rizing, Akitomo Takeno was the leading scorer with 16 points and Julius Ashby and Josh Peppers chipped in with 13 apiece. Power forward Reggie Warren, a bj-league journeyman, supplied eight points and 10 rebounds for his new team.
Brave Warriors 83, Crane Thunders 62
In Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, the hosts fell to 0-4 after their second double-digit loss in as many days in the franchise’s first-ever home series.
Jermaine Green paced Shinshu with 18 points, big man Wayne Marshall had a 15-point, eight-rebound, three-block effort and Takanori Goya scored 13 points.
For the expansion Crane Thunders, Shingo Okada and Lewis Witcher scored 11 points apiece.
Northern Happinets 90, Grouses 58
In Akita, coach Kazuo Nakamura’s club erupted for 31 fourth-quarter points in a runaway victory over Toyama and earned a sweep to open the season.
Dion Harris flushed 6 of 14 3-point shots and had a game-high 26 points, Yuki Kikuchi sank three 3s in a 13-point effort and Shigehiro Taguchi made four 4s and finished with 12 points. The Happinets were 14-for-30 from 3-point range.
The Grouses’ Masashi Joho was the team’s top scorer with 14 points.
Lakestars 75, Shining Suns 53
In Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, Shiga used its inside muscle to control the boards and hauled in 24 offensive rebounds in a lopsided road win to bounce back from a two-point loss in the teams’ season opener.
Dionisio Gomez, in his second season with the Lakestars, scored 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds, Ray Nixon added 15 points.
Alfred Aboya, a former UCLA center, and Wayne Arnold each added 10 points.
For Miyazaki, center Dominique Keller had a game-high 26 points.
Phoenix 89, HeatDevils 72
In Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, Hamamatsu Highashimikawa played inspired, focused basketball after a 95-54 loss to Oita in the series opener.
Kevin Galloway led the Phoenix (2-2) with 29 points and 10 rebounds, Elbert Fuqua contributed 21 points and 12 boards and former league MVP Jeffrey Parmer added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
HeatDevils big man Taj Finger poured in 18 points and Taishiro Shimizu scored 15 points. Naoto Takushi dished out eight assists in the loss.