Coming off a championship game loss to the Ryukyu Golden Kings last spring, the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix have been on a mission to reclaim the title that was theirs in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons.
To do so, the Phoenix must reach the Final Four as a member of the Western Conference this spring. Having moved from the Eastern Conference to the West, second-year coach Ryuji Kawai’s club finds itself in the thick of things in the ultra-competitive West.
The Phoenix are one of the most talented clubs, assembling an experienced, versatile roster, and know what it takes to turn it up a notch as it did over the weekend against the host Osaka Evessa. Hamamatsu completed a weekend sweep on Sunday, winning a fiercely competitive 87-83 decision at Sumiyoshi Sports Center and getting major contributions from a host of players.
Consider the numbers: Wendell White (25 points, eight rebounds), Kevin Galloway (16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals), Tsubasa Yonezawa (15 points, 3-for-3 on 3-point shots), Jeffrey Parmer (12 points, nine boards, two blocked shots), Atsuya Ota (zero points, but three crucial blocks). Furthermore, this stood out among all the numbers compiled by the stat crew: the Phoenix made eight blocks.
When it was over, Hamamatsu had raised its record to 23-13 and reminded folks around the league that the star-studded team is very much a force to be reckoned with in the chase for the title in the fledgling circuit’s eighth season.
In his postgame remarks to reporters, Kawai said, “I’m so glad that we fought with patience as we did last night, and also glad to be able to fight for Hamamatsu boosters at Osaka.”
Osaka fell to 9-23 overall, 4-4 under new coach Bill Cartwright, the former Chicago Bulls bench boss.
“We played hard in the first half, especially on defense; we could hold off Hamamatsu, (which) only had 38 points in the first half,” said Cartwright.
“But we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, and that’s something we should correct. We could have made the last shot, but we made a mistake and gave it up for Hamamatsu to make a shot. But we are still positive, so we should just get better. . .”
Mike Bell paced the Evessa with 21 points and nine rebounds. Taizo Kawabe scored 15 points, Dwayne Lathan had 14 and Rick Rickert added 10.
Osaka shot 16-for-20 at the foul line, but could not overcome its 3-for-18 effort on 3s. The Evessa did do a solid job of taking care of the basketball, with 18 assists and only nine turnovers on the afternoon.
The Evessa led 23-20 after the opening quarter and took a 43-38 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Hamamatsu trailed 64-59 after three quarters, but again was the better team in the final stanza. In the rematch, the Phoenix outscored the Evessa 28-18 in the fourth quarter. (The Phoenix held a 29-11 edge in points in the decisive fourth quarter on Saturday night.)
The Phoenix also converted 22 of 26 free throws.
Broncos 91, Crane Thunders 77
In Saitama, John “Helicopter” Humphrey’s 30-point, 13-rebound performance and Nyika Williams carried the hosts to a victory over Gunma, and coach Tracy Williams club salvaged a series split.
Wayne Oliver had 13 points and Yuki Kitamuki poured in 12 for the Broncos (5-27).
Jermaine Dixon led the Crane Thunders (8-26) with 22 points, Dominique Keller scored 17 and Lewis Witcher and Yuto Okumoto had 12 apiece.
Lakestars 82, Hannaryz 75
In Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, Ray Nixon put on a shooting clinic as the hosts completed a two-contest sweep over Kyoto.
Nixon, a University of Wisconsin product, drained 5 of 10 3s and all 10 of his free throws en route to 33 points for Shiga (21-13). Newcomer Shelton Colwell continued his solid play, contributing 16 points and nine boards and Jumpei Nakama finished with 12 points. Veteran stabilizer Dionisio Gomez chipped in with 10 points and nine rebounds.
For the Hannaryz (18-16), Marcus Cousin scored 14 points with 11 rebounds and David Palmer had 13 points. Jermaine Boyette and Gyno Pomare each had 12 points.
89ers 66, Northern Happinets 64
In Akita, T.J. Cummings scored 22 points and Takuya Komoda had 21 on 10-for-14 shooting with six assists and Sendai edged the hosts for the second time in as many days.
With the victory, the 89ers (13-19) crept a step closer toward its goal of being a threat to reach the playoffs.
Sam Willard made a gritty, determined contribution from the post, adding eight points and 13 rebounds for Sendai. Takehiko Shimura dished out six assists, and Maurice Hargrow provided nine points, four boards and four assists in the win.
“This one was a bruiser, not a lot of fouls were called, even though the game was pretty physical,” Sendai coach Bob Pierce told The Japan Times. “We kept saying at the breaks to stay focused on defense and rebounding, while trying to move the ball quickly on offense. Akita’s defense was keying in on T.J. as we suspected, which opened up things for Taku (Komoda) who had a huge game for us, 21 points and 5 rebounds.
“Even when Akita briefly took the lead in the fourth quarter, we didn’t panic but stayed focused on moving the ball and getting stops. Sam Willard’s hustle play at the very end to preserve the win was a great example of how we’ve improved recently.”
B-Corsairs 79, Brave Warriors 77
In Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Draelon Burns, a legitimate MVP candidate, proved his value once again in an exciting, down-to-the-wire game, converting the game-winning shot with just over 1 second remaining as Yokohama earned the sweep.
“Good road sweep of Nagano this weekend,” said B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary, whose team improved to 24-8.
The B-Corsairs “struggled for most of the game” to find any offensive rhythm, Geary said.
But, he said, “in the fourth quarter we really began to put things together and pulled out a hard-fought win with good team defensive and timely scoring.”
Burns paced the B-Corsairs with 24 points, nine assists and no turnovers. Thomas Kennedy had 20 points, Pape Faye Mour scored 12 and Masayuki Kabaya 10.
For Shinshu (15-19), Edward Morris had 19 points and 13 rebounds. Eric Walton and Takanori Goya both scored 14 points.
Goya’s shot at the buzzer was off the mark as Kabaya defended him.
Morris reacted to the loss in a post on Facebook. “I believe our team is going in the right direction. I’m looking forward to practice and also trying to make the playoffs,” he posted.
Albirex BB 86, Big Bulls 72
In Mizusawa, Iwate Prefecture, Rodney Webb, a former NBA Development League player, had 18 points and nine rebounds and Hirotaka Kondo drained 3 of 5 3-pointers in a 15-point, six-assist, three-steal performance as Niigata bounced back for a victory in the series finale.
Yuichi Ikeda had 14 points for the Albirex (25-9), as did Chris Holm, who added 13 rebounds and two blocks for the Eastern Conference heavyweights. Nile Murry supplied 10 points in the win, and Niigata sealed the win at the charity stripe, where it made 18 of 23 shots.
Iwate’s Achilles heel all season — free-throw shooting — was a big problem in this match. The Big Bulls (23-11) were 7 of 17 at the line; they are shooting 59.3 percent this season at the line.
Dillion Sneed had 25 points and 15 rebounds for Iwate, Kenichi Takahashi scored 14 points, and Reggie Okosa had 11 points and six assists.
Grouses 93, Jets 86 (OT)
In Toyama, coach Bob Nash’s club outlasted Chiba in the bonus period, avenging a loss in the series opener.
Jeremy Jacob was the Grouses’ high scorer with 23 points. Masashi Joho’s high-energy play was evident in all areas, and finished with 18 points, four rebounds, six assists and five steals for Toyama (22-12), and Angel Garcia scored 14 points.
Toyama grabbed 23 offensive rebounds in the hard-fought contest.
Joe Werner paced Chiba (17-15) with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Marquin Chandler had 15 points, eight boards and five assists. Kensuke Tanaka chipped in with 14 points and four steals. The Jets were 4-for-19 on 3s.
Rizing 94, HeatDevils 82
In Fukuoka, floor leader Jun Nakanishi had 21 points and macho forward Reggie Warren added 20 points, 13 rebounds and four assists as the Rizing rolled past Oita.
Josh Peppers scored 16 points for Fukuoka (22-12), and Julius Ashby and Justin Johnson had 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Taishiro Shimizu led the HeatDevils (11-23) with 22 points.
Five Arrows 84, Shining Suns 61
In Miyazaki, former Shining Sun standout Dexter Lyons reminded the home team’s fans that his all-around play ranks him among the league’s top players.
Lyons had 23 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, four steals and three blocks for triumphant Takamatsu (13-21). Brandon Penn scored 15 points with nine boards and Masaaki Suzuki had a 13-point afternoon.
Larriques Cunningham had 23 points, nine rebounds and four steals for Miyazaki (5-29).
Susanoo Magic 70, Golden Kings 54
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, strong defense keyed the hosts’ fourth victory of the season over the reigning champions.
The teams could meet again in the playoffs. For now, this is the key stat: Shimane is 4-0 against Ryukyu this season.
Michael Parker sparked the Magic (23-11) with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and one block. Jeral Davis had 15 points, 12 boards and three blocks, and Edward Yamamoto and B.J. Puckett both scored 10 points.
Shimane sank 8 of 15 3s. Coach Zeljko Pavlicevic’s team also held a 41-30 rebounding edge.
Terrance Woodbury led the Golden Kings (24-8) with 18 points. Narito Namizato and Jeff Newton each had 10 points.
Ryukyu, which has lost five of its last nine games, was 20-for-49 from the field and turned the ball over 19 times. They had only eight assists.