Brave Thunders edge Sea Horses in OT, even JBL Finals

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Toshiba Brave Thunders had a strong late-game surge and prevailed in overtime in Game 2 of the JBL Finals on Thursday night, tying the best-of-five series at one win apiece with a 65-61 victory over the Aisin Sea Horses.

Just like in Wednesday’s series opener, Aisin made a run in the second half, but Toshiba patiently bounced back and erased the deficit with under 1 minute remaining in the final period, and came through in overtime.

“I told our players that it would be a tough game before today’s game, but never thought it’d go into overtime,” Toshiba head coach Takuya Kita said after the game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium No. 2.

Toshiba center Nick Fazekas led all players with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and rookie Naoto Tsuji followed with 13 points for the Brave Thunders.

After entering halftime with a 28-25 lead, the Sea Horses extended the advantage to nine early in the third quarter. But Toshiba patiently stayed in the game with its soulful defense and cut the margin, capitalizing on its signature running game.

The Brave Thunders equaled the game at 56-56 as guard Ryusei Shinoyama made a layup off an Aisin turnover with 44 seconds remaining in the fourth. Both team missed shots in the closing seconds of regulation.

The score stayed close for much of overtime, but Toshiba successfully went ahead as rookie Naoto Tsuji hit a 3 and Fazekas added a big layup with under 2 minutes remaining. Tsuji sealed the win as he sank one of two free throws to give his team a four-point lead with 15.8 seconds left.

Running up and down the court is what the Brave Thunders have done all year and Kita told his players to stick with it to counter the Sea Horses, who entered as the favorite to win the championship. And Kita’s strategy worked on the night.

“I felt like our guys were tired earlier in the game,” Kita said. “But I told them during the game that we wouldn’t be able to win unless we’d be running. And in overtime, I knew Aisin was tired with its legs, so I told our players to do damage with our legs.”

Tsuji said: “Aisin’s got high individual skills, so we wouldn’t win unless we’d run.”

Shinoyama, who finished with nine points and five assists, said that Wednesday’s first game concluded before he felt fatigue, meaning that his team didn’t run enough. But he added it wasn’t the case for the Brave Thunders, who scored 10 points off fast break (Aisin had zero) and had 15 second-chance points, on Thursday.

“We played patiently and ran well in the second half,” Shinoyama said. “We certainly took advantage of yesterday’s experience. We’d like to get our rhythm by running in the remaining series.”

For Aisin, guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi scored 18 points, followed by J.R. Sakuragi, who netted 14.

The series resumes on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Yoyogi.