YOKOHAMA – Thomas Kennedy scored a game-high 22 points as the Yokohama B-Corsairs clinched a playoff berth for the second straight season with a 76-67 victory over the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon at Yokohama International Pool.
Playing in front of an enthusiastic holiday crowd, Yokohama squandered a 19-point lead but held on to secure the postseason berth and notch its 10th sweep of the season.
Draelon Burns contributed 16 points and Shawn Malloy pulled down 14 rebounds for the home team in the triumph.
Reggie Geary’s squad improved to 28-12 with the win and will now concentrate on trying to overtake Niigata, which is also 28-12, for the best record in the Eastern Conference with 12 games remaining on the schedule.
The B-Corsairs finished third in the bj-league during their inaugural campaign in 2011-12 after posting a record of 31-21 during the regular season.
Strong defense and good ball movement keyed the Yokohama victory as Hamamatsu looked like a shell of the team that lost to the Ryukyu Golden Kings in last season’s title game.
“We’re very pleased with the sweep,” said Geary. “It’s the first time we have ever swept Hamamatsu. Our game plan made it difficult for them to score.”
Even with the big advantage at halftime, Geary knew the game wasn’t in the bag.
“We knew they would fight back,” Geary said. “The opened the second half with a 3-ball and that helped them get the momentum. But our leaders stepped up in the fourth quarter and we showed resilience.”
The loss dropped the Phoenix, who fired coach Ryuji Kawai nearly three weeks ago, to 24-18.
Kevin Galloway was outstanding in defeat for Hamamatsu, scoring 21 points and hauling down a game-high 15 boards.
Burns, who played with his right thigh heavily taped after missing five games prior to the series opener with the injury, displayed great fortitude by taking the court when he was clearly not fully healthy.
“It is hard to say right now, but I would guess I am at about 90 percent,” Burns stated. “I can’t say it’s 100 percent after my shooting (6-for-19 from the field) today.”
Despite being the leading scorer in the game, Kennedy credited his team for its effort on the other end of the floor.
“Our defense really carried us today,” Kennedy said. “We had good energy out there. We knew we had to hold the defense in the fourth quarter.”
National team center Atsuya Ota had a particularly bad game for the Phoenix, shooting 0-for-11 from the field and launching three separate airballs in the loss.
“We struggled in the first quarter today,” said Hamamatsu coach Tomoya Higashino, who was in just his fourth game at the helm. “Ota did not play well today. Yokohama is a strong team and they showed it.”
The B-Corsairs led 13-5 after a ragtag first quarter by both teams that featured poor shooting and sloppy play. The Phoenix shot an abysmal 2-for-20 from the field in the first 10 minutes of the contest.
A nice bank shot by Faye Pape Mour put Yokohama up 15-5 with 8:45 left in the second quarter.
A jumper by Jeffrey Parmer pulled Hamamatsu within four at 18-14 with 5:40 remaining in the period.
Malloy muscled in to dunk a putback and Yokohama went up 22-14 with 4:59 to go as the Phoenix called timeout.
Kennedy canned a 3-pointer off a sweet pass from Burns at 4:19 to boost the margin to 25-14 and an agitated Higashino took another timeout.
Kennedy drained another 3-ball at 2:35 and the lead rose to 14 at 30-16.
Burns found Kennedy again on the left flank for another 3-pointer to extend Yokohama’s lead to 37-18 with 1:02 to go in the half.
The B-Corsairs were on top 37-21 at the break.
A 3-pointer by Kenji Yamada gave Yokohama a 19-point lead at 50-31 with 5:40 left in the third quarter as the Phoenix employed a zone press.
Hamamatsu capitalized on some Yokohama turnovers and narrowed the deficit to 50-42 with 2:50 left in the third on a follow shot by Galloway.
The B-Corsairs saw the lead dwindle to 50-44 and took a timeout with 1:48 to go in the quarter.
A Kennedy jumper temporarily halted Hamamatsu’s surge.
Yokohama led 52-46 after three quarters.
A teardrop in the lane by Galloway pulled the Phoenix within three at 52-49 with 8:27 left as Hamamatsu kept the pressure on. Elbert Fuqua powered in for a layup for Hamamatsu to make it 53-51 at 7:37.
Fuqua then tied it 53-53 with a jumper with seven minutes left.
After an exchange of 3-pointers, Burns drained another from downtown and the B-Corsairs went back up 59-56.
A pick-and-roll saw Fuqua dunk and Hamamatsu was down 63-60 with 4:05 remaining.
Yokohama then put together a final flurry to ice the game.
Kennedy canned a 3-pointer to make it 70-62 and then Burns stole the ball and fed Kennedy for a dunk as Yokohama pulled in front 72-62 with 2:18 on the clock.
“It’s tough to come back from a big deficit like that,” noted Galloway. “It takes a lot of energy. When Kennedy hit that 3, it kind of shattered us.”
Yokohama defeated Hamamatsu 81-67 in the series opener on Tuesday night behind 21 points from Kennedy and 18 from Burns.