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Big Bulls give coach Oketani happy birthday

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Before his 35th birthday, Iwate Big Bulls coach Dai Oketani had already guided his former club, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, to a pair of bj-league championships.

After losing the series opener by five points on Saturday against the expansion Tokyo Cinq Reves, the visiting Big Bulls returned the favor on Sunday, winning 78-69 and giving Oketani a simple, but well-appreciated — call it fitting — 35th birthday present.

The Big Bulls controlled the second quarter, outscoring the host 28-13 in the game’s pivotal period and stayed in the lead throughout the fourth quarter to raise their record to 14-6.

If anything, Iwate’s seven- to eight-hour bus ride back to Tohoku would be more pleasant after the win, Big Bulls forward Lawrence Blackledge admitted after the game.

Oketani’s response to a reporter’s question about how he felt getting a win on his birthday was short and sweet.

“I’m glad,” he replied.

Yep, that’s easy to understand, indeed. What’s more, the Big Bulls have won 70 percent of their games in Oketani’s first season in charge.

Reggie Okosa led Iwate with 24 points and nine rebounds and Kenichi Takahashi hit several big shots and scored 17 points a day after his 32nd birthday. Blackledge pumped in 16 points and Masato Tsukino scored nine.

In analyzing his team’s play, Oketani highlighted the fact that team defense was a key factor in the win, citing Tokyo’s 21 turnovers as evidence of his players’ productivity and high-energy level on the afternoon at Inagi Municipal Gymnasium. “Our inside-out (strategy) on defense was effective,” Oketani added.

Tokyo shot 20-for-44 from 2-point range and 6-for-15 from beyond the arc, with only Rasheem Barrett (2-for-7, seven points) knocking down more than one 3-pointer.

Big man Jonathan Jones, the league’s leading scorer (22.2 points per game), finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds for Tokyo (8-12). Cohey Aoki scored 12 points and Jared Carter had nine for the hosts. The rest of the squad had a combined 20 points.

Tokyo coach Motofumi Aoki told reporters “it was a pity” his team lost the game after emerging victorious in the series opener.

Too many turnovers were costly, the Cinq Reves bench boss said, adding that “we’ll work on improving that” in the coming days in practice.

In the second quarter, Tokyo turned the ball over seven times, helping Iwate close out the half on a 10-0 spurt, capped by a Blackledge layup, and take a 39-26 advantage into the break.

The Cinq Reves fought back in the third quarter. Jones had 11 points in the period, making all five of his shots, including one 3-pointer, while Aoki scored seven. (And, for that 10-minute stretch, it was nearly a carbon copy of the offensive formula for success that saw Jones score 30 points and Aoki 22 in the opener.)

Tokyo pulled to within 59-56 on a Jones free throw with 5:33 to play. Before the veteran center canned two free throws, Iwate had called a timeout. The team regrouped for a strong final push to end the game.

The Big Bulls went on a 13-4 run after the lead was cut to three. Takahashi sank a jumper and converted a layup on back-to-back possessions to make it 72-60 with about 2:20 remaining in the game. Iwate made five steals in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

After the victory, Blackledge admitted “we knew (the Cinq Reves) were going to come out and play harder in the second half. We knew they weren’t going to quit, they were at home. We just kept telling each other to be aggressive — keep attacking the rim (on offense) and on defense keep rotating. . . . We just stuck to the game plan.”

Iwate’s 12 steals came a result of “just rotating hard. When everybody’s on the same page, rotating hard and trusting your teammates, you get steals, man,” Blackledge said. “The team that works the hardest is always rewarded, and today was just our day.”

Golden Kings 85, Phoenix 82

In Okinawa City, spitfire guard Narito Namizato, who was named to the Western Conference All-Star team on Monday, drained a long, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Golden Kings to a dramatic triumph over Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.

Ryukyu (17-3) won the series opener 82-75.

With the loss, the Phoenix fell to 15-9.

The Golden Kings, who topped the Phoenix in the 2011-12 title game, held their rival to 16-for-45 shooting on 2-point shots.

Anthony McHenry scored 23 points to pace Ryukyu, adding six rebounds and three blocked shots for good measure. Namizato put 18 points on the board, burying 3 of 4 3s, and dished out 10 assists. Naoto Kosuge added 11 points and Jeff Newton had 10 points and 14 rebounds.

Wendell White had 23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and two steals for Hamamatsu and Kevin Galloway contributed 18 points and 10 boards. Tsubasa Yonezawa knocked down 5 of 8 3s in a 17-point evening and Shoji Nakanishi scored 11 points.

B-Corsairs 79, Jets 72 (OT)

In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, Yokohama prevailed in the bonus period over the Jets, extending its winning streak to six games.

Thomas Kennedy scored 19 points and added eight rebounds and three blocks for the B-Corsairs (14-6). Draelon Burns had 15 points and Masayuki Kabaya poured in 13. Kenji Yamada added 11 points, while Pape Faye Mour contributed nine points and seven boards and Shawn Malloy added seven points, five boards, two steals and two blocks.

“Good sweep of Chiba this weekend, capped off by the huge fourth quarter (22-12) and overtime tonight (9-2),” Yokohama coach Reggie Geary said. “Kabaya and Thomas Kennedy were huge down the stretch, and Pape Faye Mour and Shawn Malloy gave us good muscle in the paint.”

He added: “We’re still not playing at a consistent level over four quarters, but are showing a lot of positive signs that equate to a good playoff-caliber team.”

Chiba shot 6-for-24 from beyond the arc and 23-for-69 overall to fall to 8-12. Joe Werner paced the hosts with 26 points and 17 rebounds. Shota Isshiki had 11 points and D’Andre Bell 10. Marquise Gray grabbed 15 rebounds.

Hannaryz 79, Evessa 77

In Osaka, Kyoto’s disciplined, patient offense carried the team past the hosts in a down-to-the-wire contest.

The Hannaryz (12-10) had assists on 24 of 28 field goals as they completed a series sweep.

Gyno Pomare finished with 22 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and three steals for Kyoto. David Palmer had a 21-point, 10-rebound afternoon and Jermaine Boyette scored 13 points. Yu Okada dished out five assists in the win.

Mike Bell paced Osaka (2-16) with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Rick Rickert scored 13 points, Nathan Walkup had 12 and newcomer Dwayne Lathan 10.

Rizing 76, Shining Suns 75

In Miyazaki, Josh Peppers scored 16 points and Reggie Warren had 15 points and 18 boards as Fukuoka edged the hosts and triumphed for the second time in as many days.

Jun Nakanishi chipped in with 11 points for the Rizing (15-7).

For Miyazaki (3-19), Ricky Woods had 29 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Newcomer Abdullahi Kuso notched a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) in his season debut with the Shining Suns.

Lakestars 91, Five Arrows 53

In Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, Shiga’s Wayne Arnold scored 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting, including 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, and his team clobbered the Five Arrows for the second straight game.

Ray Nixon and Alfred Aboya each had 13 points, Takamichi Fujiwara scored 11 and Yutaka Yokoe supplied nine for the Lakestars (12-10).

Takamatsu trailed 43-17 at halftime.

Brandon Penn paced the Five Arrows (7-13) with 15 points, while Robert Johnson and Dexter Lyons had 10 apiece.

Susanoo Magic 80, HeatDevils 61

In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, big man Jeral Davis had 26 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks as the hosts cruised to victory over Oita, and the HeatDevils’ losing streak reached nine games.

Michael Parker contributed 21 points and 13 rebounds for Shimane (15-7). Koki Yabuuchi scored 11 points and Edward Yamamoto had nine.

Andre Coimbra led the HeatDevils (9-13) with 25 points and 13 rebounds and newcomer P.J. Alawoya scored 17 points.

Albirex BB 89, Crane Thunders 80

In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Chris Holm anchored the middle for the Albirex in a well-rounded victory over Gunma.

Holm’s 15 points and 20 rebounds helped Niigata improve to 15-6.

Yuichi Ikeda scored 17 points and Kimitake Sato had 15 for the Albirex. Nile Murry finished with 14 points and five assists and Taj Finger added 10 points off the bench before an announced crowd of 3,369.

Jermaine Dixon and Yuto Okumoto both had 19-point efforts for the Crane Thunders (4-18). Lewis Witcher added 16 points and 10 rebounds and Dominique Keller had 14 points and eight boards.

“We played much better and were more aggressive on both ends,” Gunma coach Ryan Blackwell said, citing his team’s lackluster 37-point loss on Saturday as a point of comparison. “Yuto came off the bench and gave us a big 19 points in the first half. Hopefully his aggressiveness continues. Again, we need to be more consistent. Niigata did a good job pushing the ball and getting in their transition game in the fourth quarter and our defense was slow getting back. They are a well-balanced team and do a good job of sharing the ball. We need to do that on a more consistent basis.”

Northern Happinets 87, Broncos 84

In Akita, the hosts got 29 points from newcomer Marshall Brown and 15 from longtime bj-league forward Kazuhiro Shoji to complete a series sweep over lowly Saitama.

The Broncos fell to 2-16 under first-year coach Tracy Williams, losing their ninth straight.

The Happinets attempted more 3s (35) than 2-pointers (31), and that worked well enough for the win.

Dion Harris scored 14 points and Shigehiro Taguchi added 12 for Akita (13-7).

For Saitama, Dameion Baker had a team-best 21 points and Yuki Kitamuki scored 19. Nyika Williams pulled down 18 rebounds.