YOKOHAMA – Forward Thomas Kennedy, a 19.0 point-per-game scorer, shot a disappointing 3-for-12 from the field in the Yokohama B-Corsairs’ series opener on Saturday against the Tokyo Cinq Reves. But they won, and that was the important thing, he admitted a day later.
On Sunday, in the teams’ final bj-league game of 2012, Kennedy was nearly unstoppable. He scored a game-best 27 points, including two dunks and 9-for-11 shooting from inside the arc. He sank 3 of 6 3-pointers, ran the floor with purpose and quickness, hauled in nine rebounds and energized his teammates in a 76-52 victory over Tokyo at Yokohama International Swimming Pool.
The B-Corsairs (16-6, tied for second place in the Eastern Conference) extended their winning streak to eight games.
Many of Kennedy’s shots were taken in the paint, as he used his quickness to drive past Cinq Reves defenders. In his first season in a Yokohama uniform, he has embraced coach Reggie Geary’s mantra: attack the rim.
“That’s what we want to do,” Geary told reporters afterward. “We want to be an attacking team on offense and defense.”
And the coach’s confidence in his players is paying dividends, too.
Listen to the 2011-12 bj-league Coach of the Year’s explanation:
“We knew that with Thomas not having a (strong) shooting performance last night that he would come back really focused and have a good performance tonight.”
Sixth man Draelon Burns came off the bench and delivered 15 points, four assists and four steals for the victors. After the contest, he declared, “(We) finished this year off right.”
B-Corsairs captain Masayuki Kabaya added 12 points, six assists and two steals and Kenji Yamada had seven points and five assists. Emerging presence Pape Faye Mour, the starting center, contributed five points, 10 rebounds and three steals in 20 minutes, and backup big man Shawn Malloy had six rebounds in just shy of 20 minutes’ court time.
While Mour, Malloy and their teammates were playing an aggressive, physical brand of defense, Tokyo failed to match their intensity.
Center Jonathan Jones, who entered the series as the league’s leading scorer (22.2 points per game), was held to two points on 1-for-6 shooting (and zero trips to the free-throw line), and turned the ball over six times while often being harassed by an always super-close, swarming duo of defenders. He scored 13 points in the series opener.
Tokyo’s Dennis Carr, meanwhile, had five turnovers. The Cinq Reves (8-14) were forced into 22 turnovers on the afternoon.
Geary said Mour, a Senegalese-born player, deserves some of the credit for disrupting Tokyo’s offensive flow.
Mour was “relentless,” the coach added.
Bringing Malloy in off the bench gives the B-Corsairs a solid “one-two punch” at center, Geary said, calling it a key part of their defensive game plan.
Tokyo started the game with a solid first quarter and took a 19-16 advantage into the second stanza. The reality was, Cohey Aoki (17 points overall) and Rasheem Barrett (18) were the only consistent scoring options for bench boss Motofumi Aoki’s club. Aoki had nine first-quarter points, Barrett had five.
Overall, the other nine Cinq Reves players who stepped onto the court scored a combined 17 points.
In the second quarter, Barrett’s straightaway 3-pointer tied it at 30-30.
And then someone flipped an imaginary switch and Kennedy took his game into overdrive. He drove to the basket for an easy layup to put Yokohama ahead 32-30. He nailed a baseline jumper, then sank a floater in the lane moments later. He canned another jumper, this one from the left wing, after a Barrett 3 to give the hosts a 38-33 lead they would not relinquish.
Burns, overflowing with confidence as he directed the offense, flushed a 3-pointer for the final points of the half to make it 41-33.
Kennedy was 5-for-5 from the field in the second quarter. His team’s offensive efficiency continued after the break.
Yokohama opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run that slammed the door on Tokyo’s comeback ambitions, and the B-Corsairs led 51-33 after a Minoru Kimura free throw at the 4:34 mark.
The B-Corsairs held Tokyo to six third-quarter points, a season low for a Yokohama foe. The Cinq Reves’ 52 points was also a season-low output for a Yokohama opponent.
The B-Corsairs led 55-39 entering the fourth quarter.
Kennedy ensured that Tokyo wouldn’t creep back into the game by maintaining his aggressive mind-set in the fourth, when he scored nine points, burying three 3s. Tokyo never made a serious comeback the rest of the way as its offense continued to struggle mightily.
After the game, Kabaya joked that because Kennedy had the hot hand that it was “T. time.” Kennedy explained that he felt in the zone and knew he should continue to look for his shot.
“I thought we came out really aggressive and with a mind-set to continue our win streak but also just treat it as today’s game as well. And we found a way to get it done,” Kennedy said.
Mour said “teamwork and energy” were keys to success.
The players “were focused for 40 minutes and gave us great effort,” Geary said, adding the team “finished (2012) the right way.”
Coach Aoki said his team had a bad performance, noting the offense was poor in the second half. He singled out Jones as a top offensive player who buckled under the pressure due to “stress.”
“Yokohama played exceptional defense,” he added.
And on a day when their defense was top notch, the B-Corsairs were blessed to have Kennedy lighting up the scoreboard as quickly, it seemed, as a blinking eye.
Kennedy said, “Yeah, I think that for me every shot I take I’m going to make, or I wouldn’t shoot it. But sometimes if you hit a couple in a row you get that feeling.”
As a team, the feeling of victory was, well, satisfaction, according to Geary.
“We were very happy to get two wins this weekend. . . . To accomplish that was great, and we’re excited to finish 2012 on the right note, with, we felt, two really quality performances,” said Geary, a former NBA guard.
“Even though this was probably one of our best weekends, we are going to go back and look at the tape and realize we can play so much better. There’s so many things we can do (to improve). We’re playing well, don’t get me wrong, but I still think we can grow so much more.”
And there are 30 regular-season games remaining on Yokohama’s schedule to accomplish that goal.
Albirex BB 87, Brave Warriors 68
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Yuichi Ikeda led the hosts with 18 points as they won their seventh straight game, completing a series sweep over Shinshu.
Niigata (17-6 overall, 12-4 at home) sank 25 of 47 field-goal attempts and had solid production from beyond the 3-point arc, making 9 of 21.
Shuhei Komatsu and Taj Finger each had 15 points and Chris Holm chipped in with 10 points and 12 rebounds, while Kimitake Sato scored nine points.
Wayne Marshall paced the Brave Warriors (13-11) with 20 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Edward Morris scored 14 points, Jermaine Green had 11 and Takanori Goya eight in defeat.
Evessa 82, Five Arrows 72
In Takamatsu, Osaka snapped a five-game losing streak, earning a series split against the Five Arrows.
Evessa veteran Taizo Kawabe scored a season-high 22 points on 7-for-11 shooting, Rick Rickert delivered energy and numbers at both ends of the court (17 points, 16 boards) and four teammates scored eight points apiece, including Mike Bell, who also hauled in 14 rebounds.
Osaka improved to 3-17.
Brandon Penn paced Takamatsu (8-14) with 20 points, Dexter Lyons added 16 points and nine rebounds and Yusuke Kodera canned five 3s for all of his 15 points.
The Evessa’s hard work in the rebounding department paid off, with them holding a plus-18 advantage on the boards.
Big Bulls 97, Broncos 53
In Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, the hosts overwhelmed Saitama, taking a 59-27 lead into the locker room at halftime en route to a annihilation.
The Broncos (2-18) were losers for the 11th consecutive contest.
Lawrence Blackledge nearly had a rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 12 boards and nine blocks for Iwate. Frontcourt mate Reggie Okosa scored 18 points and center Dillion Sneed had 14, Makoto Sawaguchi added 13 and Kenichi Takahashi 12.
As they saying goes, Saitama would’ve had trouble shooting the ball into a basket as big as the ocean on the afternoon. Coach Tracy Williams’ squad was 19-for-73 from the field, including 3-for-21 on 3s.
Dameion Baker was the Broncos’ top scorer (20 points) and Nyika Williams had 16.