In a midweek showdown of bj-league expansion clubs, the Tokyo Cinq Reves earned a series split against the visiting Gunma Crane Thunders on Thursday, winning 65-63.
Veteran guard Cohey Aoki paced Tokyo (5-7) with 18 points and Akihito Inoue and Jonathan Jones poured in 13 apiece for the hosts at Higashikurume Sports Center. Dennis Carr scored seven points for coach Motofumi Aoki’s club, which improved to 3-3 at home.
Gunma led 48-47 entering the fourth quarter.
Guard Tatsuhiko Toshino led the Crane Thunders (1-13) with 12 points,and Damien Brown and Thomas Granado had 11 apiece. Lewis Witcher added nine points.
Gunma shot 22-for-70 from the field.
In the series opener on Wednesday, Gunma defeated Tokyo 85-80 to record the first victory in franchise history, and first for new coach Ryan Blackwell, who recently replaced original bench boss Tadashi Hayashi.
Kenya Tomori had 20 points and 12 assists for the Crane Thunders and Nyika Williams also scored 20. Shingo Okada and Granado contributed 15 points apiece.
For Tokyo, Jones topped the scoring charts with 20 points.
Both games were marred by abysmal attendance; a crowd of 563 was announced for the series finale, and 506 for the opener.
After the series, Blackwell took time to take stock of his team.
“The team is obviously getting better and is totally different than they were a few weeks ago,” he told The Japan Times on Thursday.
Indeed, the franchise’s first victory was an important step.
“It was nice for them to get their first win,” Blackwell said. “The players and staff had been working very hard before I got here so I’m happy for all of them first (of all).
“I think our mentality, especially on defense has changed and that’s what I wanted from Day 1. Offensively we are more fluid and we will continue to score more points as long as we stay aggressive.”
What was his assessment of Thursday’s game?
“We had a chance in tonight’s game. We were plagued by foul trouble the whole game, but our bench players came in and played solid minutes.”
Blackwell also saw again the impact that Aoki can make in this league. (Last season, the six-time All-Star guard played under Blackwell when the latter coached the Osaka Evessa.)
“Cohey was huge for Tokyo,” Blackwell said. “He made every big shot he took, which is something I’m very familiar with. He was the difference tonight for them.”
Looking ahead, Blackwell said, “We need to better on the defensive boards. We gave up close to 50 offensive rebounds for the (series).”