Aisin edges Toshiba in JBL Finals opener

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The powerhouse Sea Horses withstood a tough challenge by Toshiba, but came through down the stretch as Aisin defeated the Brave Thunders 77-71 in Game 1 of the JBL Finals on Wednesday night.

Center J.R. Sakuragi had a team-high 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Sea Horses, while his team was sharp from behind the 3-point arc, nailing 12-for-20.

The game was a seesaw contest at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2. The lead changed 14 times in the first three quarters. A pair of 3s by Shogo Asayama bolstered an Aisin run and it widened the gap to as many as 14 points in the final period.

Toshiba threatened the Sea Horses by cutting the deficit to four points with 3-pointers by Mamadou Diouf and Naoto Tsuji with less than 2 minutes left in the game. But Aisin held on with its tight defense.

“We didn’t necessarily play badly as we had some mistakes, allowing Toshiba to score on the fast break, earlier,” Aisin head coach Kimikazu Suzuki said after the game. “But we came through starting late in the third quarter and successfully had a lead of more than 10 points.”

Aisin shot just 38.5 percent from inside the 3-point line, but the key was its shots from beyond the arc.

“You always have ups and downs during the season,” Suzuki said. “But toward the end (of the season), our Japanese players, especially those who come off the bench, have improved on their outside shooting.”

Young guard Ryoma Hashimoto made huge 3s midway through the final period to contribute to his team’s run. The 24-year-old was 3-for-5 on 3s in an 11-point performance as Aisin’s second-leading scorer on the night.

For Toshiba, center Nick Fazekas had 21 points and 10 boards, followed by Takahiro Kurihara, who had 10 points.

Brave Thunders starting point guard Ryusei Shinoyama said that the team could have played better. But, he said, there would still be games to play for the club, which is making its first Finals appearance in eight years.

“We could’ve made more shots and made some turnovers that didn’t have to happen,” Shinoyama said. “But we got to know how the Finals are like through today. I’m sure we’re going to be able to play much better.”

Game 2 will tip off at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Yoyogi.