/

Dixon, Tomori shine in Gunma triumph over Sendai

by Ed Odeven

After a quiet game in the series opener, Gunma Crane Thunders point guard Jermaine Dixon lit up the scoreboard for 28 points in a 78-75 bounce-back win over the host Sendai 89ers on Tuesday night in the bj-league.

Dixon was 9-for-16 from the field and sank 7 of 10 free throws in 23 minutes off the bench. He had six points on Monday.

Kenya Tomori’s 10 points, eight rebounds, six assists, four steals and one block proved vital for the Crane Thunders (9-27). Lewis Witcher added 13 points and Dominique Keller had 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.

T.J. Cummings paced Sendai (14-22) with 21 points and Sam Willard had 14 points and 21 rebounds, while Yasuaki Arai had 15 points for the 89ers, who missed 14 of 18 3s. Maurice Hargrow scored 12 points in defeat.

“It was nice to come back to Sendai and play against my old team and see a lot of the fans/boosters and team (staff),” Gunma coach Ryan Blackwell told The Japan Times after the game. “I haven’t been there in four years. “Monday we didn’t play well until the fourth quarter. We turned the ball over 19 times and had no energy and no answer for Cummings.

“Tonight, we were much better defensively, especially the first half. Jermaine was great all around and Kenya played one of his best games overall for us. Our offense was really fluid for the most part and that showed with our 20-assist stat.”

On Monday, Cummings scored a game-high 35 points and the 89ers defeated the Crane Thunders 77-69, giving Takeo Mabashi a victory in his coaching debut.

Mabashi, the 89ers general manager, took over as acting head coach on Saturday after the team fired bench boss Bob Pierce.

The 89ers led 21-16 after one quarter, 37-27 at halftime and 53-38 entering the fourth.

Keller led Gunma with 30 points and nine rebounds. Witcher scored 12 points and Shingo Okada had 10.

One insider’s perspective: A longtime league source was recently asked the following question: Who’s the most athletic Japanese player in league history?

He responded with a two-fold answer, starting with insight about Osaka Evessa veteran shooting guard Satoshi Takeda, a 185-cm, 32-year-old pro.

“I might have to pick Takeda as the all-time most athletic,” the source told The Japan Times. “When he played at Takamatsu he tried to dunk everything on the fast break, and usually succeeded. But he’s no longer the same player as he’s gotten older.”

The insider’s thoughts quickly turned to Saitama Broncos forward Yuki Nobuhira, who broke into the league with the Akita Northern Happinets in 2010.

“Now that he’s recovered from his knee injury he might be the most athletic Japanese player in the league,” the source said of the 190-cm Nobuhira.

“(Toyama Grouses guard Takeshi) Mito might be the the best challenger now, he’s really quick and a great leaper, but Nobuhira is taller and stronger.

“So without having seen everyone, I would rank the current bj-league players: 1. Nobuhira; 2. Mito; and 3. Takeda.”

Saitama’s current three-game winning streak — nearly half of its season total — has featured guard Yuki Kitamuki, coming off a 30-point outburst against Sendai last Friday, and Nobuhira working well for the Broncos (7-27).
“Actually, what (coach) Tracy (Williams) has done for Kitamuki and Nobuhira is pretty effective,” the insider said. “They both play really hard and probably are playing better than at any other time in their bj-league careers. Both are big enough and athletic enough to cause problems at both ends of the floor.”

The last word: “I know that I’m supposed to be patient, and will be up to a certain point, because we are better than this.” — Osaka Evessa head coach Bill Cartwright, whose team snapped a three-game losing streak on Sunday. The Evessa 10-24 are 5-5 in Cartwright’s 10 games at the helm.