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Basketball providing quality diversion in Miyagi Prefecture

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Taking a look back at an action-packed Sunday in the bj-league. News, notes and observations…

*On Sunday morning, I briefly conversed with a middle-aged train engineer at Sendai Station while en route to Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, for the Sendai 89ers-Osaka Evessa series finale. The friendly fellow said he was happy to meet Evessa coach Bill Cartwright after the game on Saturday and excited to get his autograph. But, he lamented, “It was a pity the 89ers lost.”

With back-to-back defeats last weekend, the 89ers fell to 16-26 overall, including 7-15 in home games.

The train engineer I met seemed to be more energetic than a typical worker on a Sunday morning, just more than 12 hours after the series opener, a 56-52 Sendai loss. Perhaps this was why: Meeting a longtime NBA big man is not your everyday occurrence in Sendai, I thought to myself.

The 89ers, meanwhile, have dropped five of their eight games since Takeo Mabashi, the team’s general manager, replaced Bob Pierce as head coach. The 89ers have not found a way to close out games on a consistent basis. Fourth-quarter woes have triggered loss after loss.

*At Bayside Arena, in Minamisanriku, local school children sat along the sideline opposite the teams’ benches, making a long line from baseline to baseline of fervent supporters, some of whom were more captivated when the 89ers cheerleaders stepped onto the floor. They sat just in front of the regular seats, which were mostly occupied by enthusiastic adult fans. Speaking to mother and her elementary school-age son after Sunday’s game, both said he was happy to receive a white T-shirt as a souvenir. The young boy also said he’d be happier if Sendai had won. (Dozens of kids wore the same shirt, concocted as a fundraising item for local relief efforts, at the game.)

In Minamisanriku and the surrounding areas, the reminder of what was lost (people, buildings, roads, trees, etc.) on March 11, 2011 due to the earthquake and tsunami was everywhere. Indeed, the region’s recovery continues, but in sports vernacular, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Despite the hardships the region’s people have endured, and continue to deal with, it was immediately evident once again that they take great pride in rooting for their local sports teams. Everyone I spoke to — a few dozen people in random locations — in Miyagi Prefecture on Sunday and Monday know who the Sendai 89ers are.

*Shifting the focus to the Western Conference powerhouse Ryukyu Golden Kings, it’s worth noting that the Kings did a fine job holding John “Helicopter” Humphrey, the Saitama Broncos star and league’s leading scorer (25.9 points per game entering the weekend) to 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting in the series opener and 12 points on 2-for-15 shooting in the Sunday rematch. Ryukyu picked up a pair of wins to improve to a league-best 33-9, including 19-3 at home. Saitama fell to 11-31, including 4-18 in away games.

With Jeff Newton out of the lineup, a big part of Ryukyu’s inside game was not utilized over the weekend. On Sunday, coach Koto Toyama’s club relied on its many perimeter options, including veteran guard Naoto Kosuge, who shared the team lead in points (24) with Terrance Woodbury. Kosuge also hoisted up 21 3-pointers (eight makes). As a team, the Kings attempted 45 3s (15 makes) on the afternoon before a rowdy crowd of 2,594 in Ishigaki, Yaeyama, a remote area of Okinawa Prefecture.

Morihisa Yamauchi and Anthony McHenry both pumped in 11 points for the Sunday victors, and McHenry, a complete all-around player, added eight rebounds, six assists, three blocks and two steals. Dzaflo Larkai grabbed 15 rebounds and speedy guard Narito Namizato impressed the locals with 12 boards, 11 assists and also six points on the afternoon. For Saitama, Yuki Nobuhira was the top point-getter with 14. All in all, it was a battle on the boards, as both teams grabbed 60 rebounds. Ryukyu’s 87-77 victory, though, was sealed from 3-point range. Saitama (11-31) made 8 of 34 3s, scoring 21 fewer points from beyond the arc.

*The host Iwate Big Bulls, playing without injured big man Lawrence Blackledge (six straight games), lost 83-80 to the Oita HeatDevils. Oita (16-28) completed a two-game sweep as it continues to make strides late in the season. The HeatDevils have won three straight and four of their last five games under second-year coach Yukinori Suzuki.

Taishiro Shimizu had 19 points and seven assists and Thomas Granado notched a double-double (23 points, 13 boards) for the visiting HeatDevils.

Dillion Sneed paced Iwate (26-16, 12-10 at home) with 28 points and 12 boards. The All-Star center also had one of his better free-throw shooting performances in recent weeks. Two Sundays after going 0-for-17 at the line, Sneed sank 8 of 15 shots, perhaps an encouraging sign after the aforementioned struggles. He also made 10 of 17 2-point attempts as the team’s primary scoring option. Coach Dai Oketani’s club is in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and the Big Bulls will likely secure a first-round home playoff series as a third or fourth seed.

*Elsewhere, the visiting Miyazaki Shining Suns pounded the host Akita Northern Happinets 76-60 behind a balanced scoring attack. Yuto Otsuka (17 points) and Hiroki Oshiro (15) led five players in double figures. Oshiro also had nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in a productive outing. Miyazaki improved to 9-35.

It was a bad shooting afternoon for Akita, which was 24-for-65 from the field. Newcomer Mike Anderson led the Happinets (22-20) with 16 points, ex-Michigan Wolverine Dion Harris had 15 and teenage point guard Yuki Togashi, a rookie, had 14 points and nine assists.

Togashi is averaging 13.4 points in 16 games for Akita. He’s shooting 36.5 percent from beyond the arc and 45 percent on 2s. He’s 9-for-18 at the free-throw line, and it’s the notion here he ought to use his speed, jumping ability and athleticism to earn more frequent trips to the line. He’s still only 19, so he’s at the development stage of his young career.

*In the Niigata Albirex BB’s 89-86 win over the Takamatsu Five Arrows, which gave Niigata a sweep and improved its home record to 15-5 — Nile Murry quietly produced a stellar game (21 points, six rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block). Shuhei Komatsu drained 5 of 10 3s in a 19-point effort and Chris Holm had a double-double (10 points, 12 boards).

The Albirex have won 10 of their last 14 games and share the conference lead (30-12) with the Yokohama B-Corsairs. Expect a spirited fight for the regular-season title between the rivals.

For Takamatsu, now 16-28 after a disastrous 2-50 campaign last season, Paul Williams was the top scorer with 19 points. Free-throw woes hurt the Five Arrows, who missed 12 of 24 shots at the line.

*The Kyoto Hannaryz (23-19) are on a three-game winning streak. They topped the host Shinshu Brave Warriors for the second time in as many days on Sunday.

Marcus Cousin and Yu Okada each put 17 points on the board for the Hannaryz, while Cousin and Gyno Pomare (14 points, 12 boards) each had double-doubles. Pomare hauled in a team-high five offensive rebounds as Kyoto out-rebounded the hosts 49-39 in the series finale.

Hannaryz guard Masaharu Kataoka, who has started 38 of his 41 games, was 16-for-16 at the charity stripe over the weekend.

Edward Morris was the standout performer for Shinshu (16-28) with 26 points, 13 boards and three steals. His afternoon also included four dunks.

*The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix outplayed the host Shiga Lakestars in the fourth quarter to earn a 64-62 win and a series split.

The Phoenix (25-19) had lost four straight entering the game, but got strong efforts from Jeffrey Parmer (16 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals), Kevin Galloway (13 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two steals) and Elbert Fuqua (10 points, six boards, two steals), plus timely 3s from Masahiro Oguchi, Shoji Nakanishi and Tsubasa Yonezawa to hold off the Lakestars.

Shelton Colwell paced Shiga (26-16) with 21 points and nine rebounds, Dionisio Gomez scored 15 and Wayne Arnold had 11. Shiga only got to the line for six shots on the afternoon.

*In the Toyama Grouses’ 77-72 road win over the Shimane Susanoo Magic, Angel Garcia had 21 points and 14 rebounds, team-high totals in both categories. Ira Brown, one of the strongest frontcourt players in league history, added 17 points and 11 boards and guards Takeshi Mito and Masashi Joho both poured in 15 points.

While other teams looked set to start import guards before the season tipped of in October, Toyama coach Bob Nash told The Japan Times he had confidence that starting both Joho and Mito (they turn 31 and 28, respectively, next month) would pay off for the Grouses. Nash’s faith in the backcourt duo has paid off. Toyama is 27-15, the best start in the seven-year franchise’s history.

Shimane, which won the series opener, fell to 30-14. All-Star MVP Michael Parker produced the most highlights for the Magic, finishing with 25 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. Shimane had one of its poorest rebounding games of the season, grabbing 31 and allowing 51, including 21 offensive boards.

At 17-5 at home, Shimane has become a very dangerous team on its own court, and the fan base has grown steadily in the team’s three seasons of existence. Social media interaction between Shimane fans and players is indicative of the franchise’s growth. The loss gives coach Zeljko Pavlicevic, who celebrated his 62nd birthday the other day, another teaching tool for his team, pointing out the little things the players can do better to produce better results.

*Despite lead guard Kensuke Tanaka’s absence due to a leg injury sustained against Ryukyu on March 17, the Chiba Jets rolled to their second victory in as many days, beating the host Rizing Fukuoka 87-77.

When the game clock was stopped, Marquin Chandler was most effective, canning 11 of 13 free throws. The San Jose State product had a game-best 25 points. Shota Isshiki added 15 points and six assists and Joe Werner had 12 points, 16 rebounds and four assists. Forward Reina Itakura had one his better games of the season, too, with 11 points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block.

The Jets (22-20) play eight of their final 10 games on the road to close out the season.

For Fukuoka (28-16), which is in third place in the West, Justin Johnson and Josh Peppers had 19 points apiece. Akitomo Takeno dished out seven assists. He had 17 assists and one turnover in the two-game series.

Jeremy Tyler update: Former Tokyo Apache big man Jeremy Tyler has had two big performances since returning to the NBA Development League.

Now playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s D-League affiliate, scored 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting with six rebounds, three steals and three blocks on Monday as Santa Cruz defeated the Idaho Stampede for its league-best ninth straight win.

In Tyler’s first game back with Santa Cruz, he had 18 points, 17 rebounds and a block on Saturday against the Texas Legends.

Tyler has played seven games for Santa Cruz this season, averaging 16.4 points and 9.0 rebounds, with five of those games in his first stint on the club. He was traded by Golden State to the Atlanta Hawks in February, and later released by the Hawks, who needed backcourt depth.