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B-Corsairs prove last season was no fluke

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

As a first-year franchise, the Yokohama B-Corsairs proved to be one of the bj-league’s best clubs last season, advancing to the Final Four and placing third overall at Ariake Colosseum. No easy feat.

Head coach Reggie Geary, a defensive demon during his playing days at the University of Arizona, developed a hungry, hustling, hard-working team that got better as the season progressed. Geary, a former NBA guard, earned the 2011-12 Coach of the Year award and power forward Justin Burrell took home the regular-season MVP accolade.

Now, the B-Corsairs have set a new standard, winning their 32nd game, topping their regular-season victory total from a year ago by one, by routing the host Toyama Grouses 96-72 on Sunday in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture.

Yokohama (32-16) is tied for first place in the 11-team Eastern Conference along with Toyama and the Niigata Albirex BB. All three teams have four games remaining until the playoffs.

In Sunday’s series finale, captain Masayuki Kabaya paced the B-Corsairs with 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting, and dished out four steals. All-Star guard and leading Sixth Man Award candidate Draelon Burns poured in 17 points and Senegalese big man Pape Faye Mour had 16 points and 15 rebounds (11 offensive). Shawn Malloy chipped in with 15 points and eight boards and Kenji Yamada had seven points and two steals.

Yokohama shot 54.2 percent from inside the arc and 43.8 percent from long range, and out-rebounded Toyama 53-37 to earn a series split.

“(It was a) really good road win vs. Toyama in a tough environment today. (The) guys really played with great focus and energy,” Geary said on Sunday night.

“This win was an important win because it give us the tiebreaker over Toyama.

“We received good balance scoring with five players in double figures, won the rebound battle on the boards, and maintained our composure vs. a physical Toyama defense,” added Geary after the series concluded.

Geary is pleased with the team’s return to form as it gears up for the playoffs in May.

“This performance is more indicative of the level of quality we were playing at before Draelon’s (leg) injury seven weeks back,” the coach said.

Looking at the team’s record-win total, Geary had this to say: “(I’m) proud of our players and staff in setting a new franchise record for wins in a season with 32. Hopefully we can continue this way of success for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.”

For the Grouses, Masashi Joho had a team-high 19 points and Jeremy Jacob and Ira Brown both scored 15. Toyama missed 18 of 22 3-point shots.

Yokohama jumped out to a 27-12 lead after one quarter and took a 46-28 advantage into halftime.

“On Saturday we did a good job of controlling tempo and rebounding,” Grouses bench boss Bob Nash said, reflecting on the series opener, an 89-83 Toyama triumph. “We got great performances from Jeremy Jacob and Tatsunori Fujie off our bench. It was a down-to-the-wire finish and we made big plays with Jacob scoring 14 in the final quarter.”

His thoughts after the series finale?

“Sunday was a complete role reversal, Yokohama controlled the tempo, they beat us on the boards,” said Nash, a former NBA forward.

“We got off to slow start and we couldn’t get anything going offensively and our defense in the first half was not our best,” he added. “Yokohama played very well. Kabaya was a big factor in their victory, scoring 20 points. Yokohama played really well and they earned the win on the road.”

Nash, in his first season at the helm, sees the positive growth of his team’s fan base as a big step in the right direction.

“I would also like to mention that we had a full house, close to 3,000 fans for the game, it was a big-time atmosphere,” he said. “Our fan base has increased greatly this season.”

* * *

Sunday flashback: Nine other games were on the docket. What follows is a recap of those games.

Jets 99, 89ers 92 (OT)

In Sendai, Marquin Chandler buried 6 of 10 3-pointers and sank 14 of 15 free throws in a 36-point afternoon as Chiba earned a series split and clinched a playoff spot.

Chandler hauled in 11 rebounds and made four assists for the Jets (24-24). D’Andre Bell scored 21 points and Reina Itakura had 12 points and nine boards. Marquise Gray added a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks). Shota Isshiki chipped in with eight points, five rebounds and three assists for Chiba.

Injured forward Joe Werner, the team’s second-leading scorer (19.8 points per game), has missed the past six contests. Team spokesperson Yuki Makihira said Monday that Werner has been bothered by “groin pain.” A timetable for his return is unclear.

Chiba trailed 40-24 at the half but rallied in the third and fourth quarters to force overtime. Shooting 14-for-26 from 3-point range keyed the Jets’ comeback victory.

T.J. Cummings paced Sendai (19-29) with 24 points and big man Sam Willard had 19 points, 22 rebounds and seven assists. Maurice Hargrow had 16 points against his former club and Takuya Komoda scored 10 points. Takehiko Shimura handed out six assists.

The Jets, a second-year franchise, will defect and join the re-branded JBL (National Basketball League) after the season. Plans were announced last summer.

Northern Happinets 65, Albirex BB 62

In Akita, Marshall Brown had 26 points and 13 rebounds and 19-year-old rookie Yuki Togashi scored 16 points to lead the hosts to a narrow victory over Niigata.

Akita lost the series opener by nine points. This time, coach Kazuo Nakamura’s club made few costly mistakes (seven turnovers) en route to a series split. The Happinets (24-24) did, however, have a tough time making shots on a consistent basis, finishing 26-for-62 from the field.

The Albirex did not fare much better, shooting 22-for-66, including 16-for-47 from inside the arc.

Hirotaka Kondo led Niigata with 17 points and Chris Holm had 14 points and 16 rebounds. Rodney Webb added nine points and 12 boards. Nile Murry also scored nine points.

In the low-scoring contest, Akita led 26-22 at the half.

Golden Kings 98, Crane Thunders 72

In Okinawa City, the reigning champions did what they do best during the regular win: win at home.

Ryukyu improved to 38-10 overall and 23-3 in Okinawa, completing a series sweep over Gunma.

Terrance Woodbury scored a game-high 28 points with 11 rebounds and three steals for the Kings. Anthony McHenry had 18 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals and Dzaflo Larkai scored 17 points on 8-for-9 shooting. Naoto Kosuge scored 13 points, including his first slam dunk of the season, and collected three steals. Floor leader Narito Namizato dished out seven assists.

Ryukyu’s offense operated at a crisp, efficient pace against the first-year franchise, and the Kings shot 56.9 percent from 2-point range.

Dominique Keller and Randy Orr each had 15 points for the Crane Thunders (12-36), Jermaine Dixon scored 11 and Shingo Okada had 10.

“We played well the first half of the first game,” Crane Thunders coach Ryan Blackwell said, looking back at the weekend series. “After that we couldn’t match their intensity on either end. Woodbury was great in both games for them and McHenry was all over the place as usual. Larkai played aggressive and was big for them on the inside.

“They’re the best team in the league and I told my team for us to get to that level we have to play for 40 minutes as a unit, especially on defense. I thought our effort on defense was lacking for the most part.”

After the game, Ryukyu coach Koto Toyama told reporters that there was a great atmosphere at the game, not needing to cite the 3,701 spectators on hand. The Kings play their final four regular-season games on the road — against the Tokyo Cinq Reves this weekend in Ota Ward, Tokyo, and on April 27-28 against the Osaka Evessa.

Lakestars 77, Shining Suns 68

In Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, injury-plagued Shiga relied on old-fashioned defensive pressure — five Lakestars had two or more steals — and got timely shots when it needed them to complete a series sweep over the struggling Shining Suns.

Jumpei Nakama scored a season-high 20 points, Shelton Colwell had 19 points and 15 rebounds and Wayne Arnold finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds as Shiga improved to 30-18. Yutaka Yokoe had 13 points and a team-best three steals for the Lakestars.

Shiga (30-18) grabbed 52 rebounds; Miyazaki had 40.

Abdullahi Kuso and Yuto Otsuka scored 14 points apiece for the Shining Suns (9-41), who have won two of their last 10 games.

The back-to-back victories brought some comfort to a team that’s been hobbling along in recent weeks.

“Well, we won the games, and I’m happy about that. So, that’s what went well,” Lakestars coach Al Westover told The Japan Times.

“But, before the weekend, Gomez was my only fit and healthy import as Wayne is struggling with a groin strain, Shelton has a foot injury, Ray (Nixon) is out with a sprained ankle, and then (Dionisio) Gomez was injured in the Saturday game and missed Sunday with a rib injury. Plus, having no (guard) Shinya (Ogawa) who is out with a knee injury … we’ve been hit hard with the injury bug.”

Westover said, “We are hopeful to have everyone, except Shinya, fit and ready for the playoffs.”

Evessa 107, HeatDevils 94

In Osaka, tone-setter Mike Bell had 24 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals and two blocks to lead the much-improved Evessa to their second victory in as many days over the previously red-hot HeatDevils.

After the game, Osaka coach Bill Cartwright said, “I was worried about Oita because they had won seven in a row (entering the series) and we have guys hurt.”

Returning to the Evessa lineup on Saturday, Rick Rickert, who had 10 points, 11 boards and two blocks on Sunday, “was a big lift,” Cartwright said.

Guards Shota Konno and Shun Watanuki had 14 and 13 points, respectively. Watanuki dished out eight assists and Konno had six. All-Star forward Nathan Walkup, meanwhile, scored 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field, including three 3s, and 5-for-5 at the free-throw line. Dwayne Lathan also had a 13-point afternoon.

“We got solid play from Shun, Shota, Nate and Mike,” said Cartwright, the longtime NBA center and former Chicago Bulls head coach. “We didn’t play great, just good enough to win.”

But the Evessa had 24 assists and eight turnovers, and shot 30 free throws to the HeatDevils’ 17.

Analyzing the way the series went, Cartwright told The Japan Times, “We played good defense Saturday, today we just outscored them.”

The Evessa, who were 5-19 before Cartwright took over as head coach on Jan. 21, can finish at .500 with victories in all of their remaining games.

“Hopefully we’ll play well in the final four games. We must all be pleased with the Osaka players’ effort,” he said.

For Oita (20-30), Taishiro Shimizu was the top scorer with 23 points and seven assists and P.J. Alawoya had 18 points. Verdell Jones III had a 15-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance.

Hannaryz 74, Five Arrows 71

In Kyoto, Masaharu Kataoka scored a team-best 16 points and Yu Okada had 14 as the Hannaryz topped Takamatsu.

Kyoto (27-21) also won the series opener.

Marcus Cousin had 13 points, Gyno Pomare scored 11 with 12 rebounds and Ryo Inagaki added 10 points, including three 3s. Jermaine Boyette had nine points, four assists and two steals in the win. The Hannaryz, who were 0-8 to start the season before rattling off eight straight wins to pull even at .500, have seven victories in their past 10 games.

Kyoto’s resurgence has reminded league observers that second-year coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s steady leadership has paved the way for the team’s success.

Dexter Lyons led the Five Arrows (19-31) with 25 points and eight rebounds. Robert Johnson had 18 points and 12 boards in the loss.

Rizing 60, Phoenix 51

In Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, three Fukuoka veterans recorded double-doubles as coach Atsushi Kanazawa’s club defeated Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.

The trio: Reggie Warren (20 points, 13 rebounds), Josh Peppers (14 points, 11 boards) and Julius Ashby (12 points, 12 rebounds). Ashby added two blocks. Warren and Peppers both had three steals. Akitomo Takeno finished with six points for Fukuoka (33-17), which is second behind Ryukyu in the West.

The Rizing sealed the win by outscoring the hosts 22-8 in the final quarter.

Kevin Galloway had 15 points, 14 rebounds and eight turnovers for Hamamatsu (26-22), which has won only three of its past 12 games. Atsuya Ota added 12 points and 15 rebounds and Shinnosuke Oishi scored 10.

The Phoenix have slipped to sixth in the West, while the Hannaryz have climbed to fifth. The top six teams in both conferences advance to postseason play.

“It was a tough weekend for us against Fukuoka,” Phoenix coach Tomoya Higashino told The Japan Times. “(At) the end of games, we just turned the ball over and could not get the defensive rebounds. We tried too much to win the ball game, thus we could not get through that pressure. However, the member of the Japan national team, Ota played hard and showed some good plays…”

Broncos 122, Cinq Reves 100

In Saitama, Yuki Kitamuki had 31 points and 11 assists and John “Helicopter” Humphrey added 28 points as the Broncos bounced back from a Saturday loss.

Four more Broncos scored in double figures: Masahide Haraguchi (16 points), Nyika Williams (15), Wayne Oliver (14) and Yuki Nobuhira (12).

Kitamuki canned 5 of 10 3s and Humphrey sank 4 of 12.

Saitama improved to 14-34, the third-worst record in the 21-team circuit.

Ricky Woods had 32 points, 13 rebounds, 11 turnovers and eight assists for Tokyo (17-31). League icon Cohey Aoki drained eight 3s in 30-point performance with five assists. Jared Carter had 12 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks off the bench in 22 minutes.

Tokyo had 25 turnovers; Saitama coughed up the ball eight times.

Big Bulls 95, Brave Warriors 83

In Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Reggie Okosa’s 23-point, 18-rebound, five-assist outing and Carlos Dixon’s 20 points carried Iwate past Shinshu for the second straight day.

Dillion Sneed scored 16 points and Kenichi Takahashi had 13 points and 10 assists for the Big Bulls (31-17), who had 29 assists on 35 baskets.

Michael Fey was the Warriors’ top scorer with 16 points and Edward Morris had 14. Shinshu fell to 16-32.