IKEDA, OSAKA PREF. – It’s only been two games, but new coach Bill Cartwright’s no-nonsense challenge to the Osaka Evessa — to play a smart, aggressive brand of basketball, as revealed by several players — is paying off.
Osaka took control of the game in the third quarter and held on to defeat the Miyazaki Shining Suns 89-79 on Sunday afternoon to complete a two-game sweep.
Guard Dwayne Lathan scored 11 of his team-high 15 points in the second quarter, Mike Bell added 14 points, 12 rebounds and two steals, Nathan Walkup scored 13 points, Taizo Kawabe had 12 and Satoshi Takeda and Rick Rickert each had 11 points. Rickert, a former Minnesota Timberwolves draft pick, also hauled in a game-high 18 rebounds, including seven offensive boards, as Osaka created numerous second-chance scoring opportunities in Cartwright’s second game in charge.
“We’re just getting used to playing at this tempo and speed,” said Lathan. “We’ve been working a lot harder in practice. The preparation for the game has been a whole lot better. Everything is just going in the right direction, and it just feels good to come out here and have fun and be able to keep smiles on our face and have confidence in our teammates . . . and everybody’s making plays.”
“He’s been teaching us to play hard, share the ball and have energy,” said Lathan of Cartwright, the longtime NBA center and former Chicago Bulls head coach.
Indeed, that approach worked, especially on offense.
The Evessa (7-19), looking alert and hungry to win, had nine players with one or more assists, including Shun Watanuki’s team-high four at Satsukiyama Gymnasium.
Cartwright replaced Takao Furuya as head coach on Monday, and conducted his first practice as the bj-league team’s new bench boss a day later.
“To me, looking at it, when coach Cartwright came in he tried to help change our mentality and our approach to the game about being more aggressive and being the aggressor in the game,” Rickert told reporters. “And really, pushing the ball up the floor, being aggressive, going at the basket, and really attacking, that alone has made a huge difference, and we’re not even talking about how he’s incorporated the new offense yet.
“The mentality, the mind-set, I feel, is just . . . everyone bought into it and everybody trusts him, and obviously he’s had an unbelievable NBA career,” which included three championships rings as Chicago’s starting center on the Michael Jordan-led team’s first three-peat from 1991-93.
Evessa guard Masashi Obuchi, who had four points, two assists and two steals off the bench, said Cartwright brings “big motivation” to the players, adding that he “commands respect” and that the players “want to step up for him.”
After winning Saturday’s game 83-73, Osaka’s players looked upbeat and happy during pregame warmups on Sunday. For example, Rickert was smiling and laughing as he conversed with teammates during shooting drills.
Miyazaki (4-24) took a 20-15 advantage into the second quarter.
The Shining Suns pulled ahead 26-19 early in the second on an Abdullahi Kuso jumper. Osaka answered with a 7-0 run, tying it a 26-26 as Lathan drove the lane and converted a tough up-and-under move with two defenders draped over him in traffic.
In a fast-paced second quarter, there were five ties. But Osaka pulled within 40-38 to close the half on Lathan’s buzzer-beating three-point play, a strong attack-the-basket-type move that Rickert talked about after the game.
Lathan’s energy fired up his teammates in the second quarter, doing so with competent scoring, hustle and good passes.
In a sign of the Evessa players following Cartwright’s pep talks this week, Bell had 10 rebounds by halftime.
Trailing 45-44 near the 7:30 mark of the third quarter, Osaka scored back-to-back baskets to move in front by three points, and a shake-and-bake move by Bell put him in good position for a nifty layup to make it 50-45, then Kawabe, heating up for a stellar period on offense, buried a jump shot to stretch the lead to seven.
Hiroki Oshiro’s 3-pointer closed the gap to 53-52. Shota Konno drained his own 3 as Osaka went ahead 56-52, and used a quarter-closing 10-4 spurt to take a 66-58 lead, capped by a consecutive 3s by Kawabe, who had 12 third-quarter points. Kawabe made 4 of 6 shots from the field in the third, including 3-for-3 from long range to spark the offense.
In the final period, the Evessa kept the pressure on at both ends of the floor and outworked the Shining Suns, and a Rickert putback put the hosts in front 83-67 near the midway point of the quarter. That put them firmly in control as Miyazaki attempted a late comeback that fell short.
Larriques Cunningham scored a team-high 19 points for the Shining Suns and Kuso had 17. Big man Thomas Fairley added 15 points, 15 boards and six blocked shot. Yuto Otsuka had 16 points in the loss. Ricky Woods, averaging 20.3 points per game, missed the contest with a lower-leg injury.
Moments after his team’s second victory of the weekend, Cartwright said, “The second game is always harder to play than the first game. I was really happy with our guys. Their effort level was very high and I was really pleased with that.
“We have a long way to go and this week is going to be hopefully a really good practice week, and we can work on our mistakes and hopefully build on what we learned these last two games.”
Osaka will travel to face the reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings next weekend in Okinawa, giving Cartwright his first series against a premier opponent in this league.
“This week will be a big test for our team,” Cartwright said, “because we go to Okinawa and they are very good basketball team, so we will really be tested and we can see where we are.”
As far as expanding the team’s playbook in his second week in charge, Cartwright wouldn’t reveal details of the new offense he’ll install, opting to only mention he calls it “strong,” though one reporter speculated it would be a triangle offense like the Bulls used during their championship dynasty years.
“The truth is that it really doesn’t matter what we run offensively, as long as it’s sound,” Cartwright said. “The most important thing, and the way we got our two wins, was by our defense.
Lakestars 83, Golden Kings 73
In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, 3-point shooting was the big story in the series finale.
The Lakestars (17-11) sank 11 of 23 3s.
Ryukyu (20-6), on the other hand, shot 5-for-27 from long range and dropped its third straight game.
In the two-game series, the Golden Kings were 11-for-55 from beyond the arc.
Dionisio Gomez had 17 points and nine boards for Shiga, Takamichi Fujiwara scored 13 points and Alfred Aboya and Ray Nixon each had 12. Shinya Ogawa finished with 10 points and six assists.
Anthony McHenry was Ryukyu’s high scorer with 23 points and Naoto Kosuge, who was 3-for-11 on 3s, added 13. Narito Namizato scored 12 points.
Susanoo Magic 81, Phoenix 75
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Brandon Freeman’s efficient 20-minute outing included a team-high 21 points and the Susanoo Magic earned a series split over Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.
Shimane’s Michael Parker, who took home his second All-Star MVP trophy last Sunday, had eye-popping stats on the afternoon: 18 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and five steals in 40 minutes. Jeral Davis chipped in with 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks for the Magic (18-10), and Edward Yamamoto added 11 points and four assists.
Kevin Galloway and Wendell White had 18 points apiece for the Phoenix (20-10) and Jeffrey Parmer scored 15.
Hamamatsu misfired on 18 of 23 3-point shots.
89ers 86, Cinq Reves 73
In Sendai, Maurice Hargrow, a standout for the Chiba Jets last season, made his 89ers debut a successful one, scoring 17 points for the hosts as they bounced back from a series-opening loss to Tokyo.
Sendai’s T.J. Cummings had 23 points and All-Star forward Takuya Komoda scored 22, converted 11 of 14 shots from the field and dished out seven assists. Captain Takehiko Shimura handed out 11 assists and picked up four steals and Sam Willard added eight points and 14 boards for the 89ers (10-16).
“It was nice to welcome Mo to Sendai with a win in his first game today,” 89ers coach Bob Pierce said of Hargrow. “Our intensity on defense was much better right from the start. And a huge difference today was that Taku responded to the challenge to play like an All Star with a solid all-around game — and probably his highest assist total ever.”
For the Cinq Reves (11-17), Jonathan Jones had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Rasheem Barrett scored 14 points, Dennis Carr dropped 13 points on Sendai and raked in 13 rebounds, while Cohey Aoki had 11 points.
Five Arrows 70, HeatDevils 55
In Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture, Dexter Lyons’ 16-point, eight-rebound, six-assist, four-steal outing steered triumphant Takamatsu past the HeatDevils.
Paul Williams scored 14 points and Brandon Penn added 12 for the Five Arrows (11-17), who were 2-50 last season.
The HeatDevils’ 13-game losing streak ended in the series opener.
Verdell Jones III paced Oita (10-18) with 17 points and Andre Coimbra had 14.
Jets 87, Brave Warriors 65
In Nagano, Joe Werner scored 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and Marquin Chandler supplied 17 points for Chiba in a well-rounded win over Shinshu.
Tomoya “Chomo” Nakamura and Marquis Grey each had 11 points for the Jets (14-12).
Shinshu suffered its eighth consecutive defeat. Jermaine Green led the Brave Warriors (13-15) with 24 points, Takanori Goya scored 11 and Edward Morris 10.
Northern Happinets 81, Big Bulls 71
In Yokote, Akita Prefecture, Dion Harris drained 5 of 8 3s en route to 20 points to lead the hosts to a bounce-back win over Iwate.
Marshall Brown added 18 points and 12 assists and Shigehiro Taguchi and Kazuhiro Shoji each scored 12 points for the Happinets (15-11).
Masato Tsukino led the Big Bulls (20-8) with 18 points, Reggie Okasa added 17 and 10 boards and Kenichi Takahashi had a 13-point effort. All-Star center Dillion Sneed didn’t play.
Iwate shot 8-for-19 at the free-throw line, including Lawrence Blackledge’s 0-for-4 struggles.
Albirex BB 97, Broncos 75
In Saitama, Taj Finger and Yuichi Ikeda scored 18 points apiece, Kimitake Sato poured in 15 and Niigata cruised past the Broncos to complete a series sweep.
Rodney Webb contributed 11 points, Chris Holm put 10 points on the board and pulled down 17 rebounds and the Eastern Conference-leading Albirex drained 9 of 18 3-pointers as they improved to 22-8 under second-year coach Matt Garrison.
John “Helicopter” Humphrey paced Saitama (3-23) with 19 points on 5-for-20 shooting.
Grouses 74, Crane Thunders 67
In Tateyabashi, Gunma Prefecture, Toyama totally dominated the rebounding battle, grabbing 52 and holding the hosts to 27, and picked up its second victory in as many days.
Ira Brown had 27 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and three steals for the Grouses (18-10) and Jeremy Jacob notched a double-double (18 points, 18 boards). Masashi Joho scored 15 points for Toyama.
Jermaine Dixon paced the Crane Thunders, a first-year franchise, with 20 points and Dominique Keller finished with 17 points, nine boards and six steals.
Hannaryz 96, Rizing 81
In Yamaguchi, Fukuoka had no answer on defense for Kyoto, giving up 60 percent (30-for-50) on shots from inside the arc.
The Hannaryz (15-13) salvaged a series split. Ex-Utah Jazz center Marcus Cousin scored a game-best 25 points with 11 boards for the Hannaryz, Gyno Pomare added 15 points and 16 boards and Yu Okada scored 17 points. Masaharu Kataoka pumped in 14 points, Jermaine Boyette had 13 and Sunao Murakami had 12.
Reggie Warren finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds for Fukuoka (17-11). All-Star guard Akitomo Takeno had 14 points and six assists and Jun Nakanishi and Justin Johnson both scored 12 points.