Through all the ups and downs since the Sendai 89ers joined the bj-league for its inaugural season in 2005, Hikaru Kusaka has been a part of the Tohoku team.
Sendai has had a shaky start, losing four of five games entering Sunday’s series finale against the host Toyama Grouses. But Kusaka, a three-time All-Star, and the 89ers found a way to bounce back with a victory, topping Toyama 90-69.
Kevin Coble paced the 89ers with 18 points and Sam Willard scored 16, Karron Clarke contributed eight and Takehiko Shimura had seven points and five assists. Kusaka, also known affectionately as “Mr. 89ers,” came off the bench and chipped in with two points, three assists and a steal in 11 minutes on his 30th birthday.
It was a fitting gift for the upbeat, hard-working veteran who has meant so much to the team over the years. According to this reporter’s research, Kusaka remains the only player in league history still with his original team who has started each of eight seasons with the same club. (He had a brief stint with the Kyoto Hannaryz as a rental player in 2011 after the 3/11 disasters caused Sendai to suspend operations for the rest of the season. But Kusaka was back with Sendai last season from the get-go.)
On Sunday, shaking up the rotation paid off for the 89ers.
“Atsushi Nogami and Sam Coleman got the start today,” Sendai coach Bob Pierce said. “I thought all the guys off the bench brought a lot of energy, and that helped us stay in the game until we were finally able to take control in the fourth quarter.
“Yasu (Yasuaki Arai) came up big with 3-for-6 from the 3-point line (and 11 points), and (Daichi) Shimoyama showed why he has to be in every game with his non-stop hustle. A good team win today with contributions from everyone.
“The most important part about the win today is ‘Mr. 89ers’ 30th birthday,” the coach added.
Ira Brown led the Grouses (3-3) with 18 points. Angel Garcia had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Takeshi Mito and Jeremy Jacob each scored 10 points. Masashi Joho struggled with his shot, finishing 3-for-18 from the field for eight points.
Big Bulls 99, Jets 88 (2OT)
In Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, Dillion Sneed and Reggie Okosa recorded double-doubles and led the hosts to a double-overtime triumph over Chiba.
Sneed finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds and four steals and Okosa added 18 points, 12 boards and two blocked shots. Guard Kenichi Takahashi had 15 points and four assists, while Naoto Nakamura scored 11 points. Versatile forward Lawrence Blackledge suffered a high ankle sprain in the second quarter and did not return for Iwate (6-0).
For Chiba (1-3), D’Andre Bell had 22 points and nine rebounds and Joe Warner scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Serge Angounou chipped in with 11 points and 12 boards and Hiroki Sato scored eight points.
Lakestars 74, Evessa 67
In Yasu, Shiga Prefecture, balanced scoring carried the Lakestars to a victory against Osaka.
The Evessa fell to 0-4 under first-year coach Zoran Kreckovic.
Dionisio Gomez paced Shiga (3-1) with 15 points and Shinya Ogawa poured in 12. Wayne Arnold had 10 points and two steals and teammates Ray Nixon and Daiki Terashita scored eight points apiece.
In a message posted on Facebook, Shiga coach Al Westover wrote, “Great weekend for the Lakestars. Two big wins and a great crowd and atmosphere.”
Andre Coimbra had 24 points and seven rebounds for Osaka and Masashi Obuchi finished with 19 points. Big man Larry Cox had an 11-point, five-block effort.
Northern Happinets 100, Crane Thunders 57
In Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture, another fast start — a 49-21 halftime advantage — propelled coach Kazuo Nakamura’s squad to a one-sided win over Gunma.
The Happinets led 51-22 at halftime on Saturday.
The expansion Crane Thunders fell to 0-6 under bench boss Tadashi Hayashi.
Shigehiro Taguchi scored a team-high 25 points for Akita (4-0), knocking down 5 of 11 3-pointers. Yuki Kikuchi contributed 20 points and buried 6 of 8 3s. T.J. Cummings had 16 points and 10 rebounds in the rout.
Lewis Witcher had 15 points and 12 rebounds for the Crane Thunders and Thomas Granado scored 12 points.
Albirex BB 80, Cinq Reves 57
In Seiro, Niigata Prefecture, Nile Murry and Rodney Webb scored 15 points apiece and Yuichi Ikeda pumped in 14 to salvage a series split.
Kimitake Sato scored 11 points for the Albirex (1-3).
Jonathan Jones was Tokyo’s top scorer with 20 points. Hirohisa Takada had 14 points for the expansion Cinq Reves (2-2).
Susanoo Magic 86, Shining Suns 78
In Mitoya, Shimane Prefecture, Michael Parker’s all-around excellence guided the hosts to a win over Miyazaki.
Parker had 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and a blocked shot as Shimane improved to 4-0. B.J. Puckett had 17 points for the Susanoo Magic and Jeral Davis supplied 14 points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks. Koki Yabuuchi had a stellar 13-point, seven-assist afternoon.
Larriques Cunningham led the Shining Suns (1-3) with 26 points and Marshall Brown had 15.
Rizing 106, Phoenix 96
In Fukuoka, Josh Peppers scored a team-high 29 points as the hosts defeated Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.
Akitomo Takeno poured in 16 points, Jun Nakanishi had a 15-point, five-assist outing and Reggie Warren scored 14 points and hauled in 17 rebounds for Fukuoka (1-3).
Kevin Galloway led the Phoenix (3-3) with 28 points and 11 assists. Adrian Thomas canned 5 of 9 3s in a 19-point performance, Jeffrey Parmer scored 17 points and Shoji Nakanishi had 16.
Golden Kings 95, Five Arrows 69
In Takamatsu, Terrance Woodbury scored 21 points and four teammates reached double figures in scoring as reigning champion Ryukyu earned a sweep.
Naoto Kosuge scored 15 points, including 4-for-9 from beyond the arc, Dzaflo Larkai contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds, Tsubasa Yonamine had 11 points and four assists and 2011-12 playoff MVP Anthony McHenry scored 10 points and collected two steals.
Golden Kings guard Narito Namizato is participating in NBA Development League individual tryouts and was not with the team over the weekend.
Paul Williams scored 20 points for Takamatsu (2-2) and Brandon Penn had 11.
Brave Warriors 82, Broncos 68
In Ina, Nagano Prefecture, Jermaine Green had 23 points and Edward Morris chipped in with 18 points and 12 rebounds as Shinshu picked up a series split.
Guard Takanori Goya added 10 points and four assists for the Brave Warriors (3-1).
John “Helicopter” Humphrey paced the Broncos (1-3) with 30 points. Humphrey sank five 3-pointers.