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Yokohama outlasts Toyama, books spot in Final Four

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Playoff basketball raises the intensity and a sense of desperation fills in the air in a win-or-go-home contest.

That was evident from start to finish on Saturday afternoon. Here’s what you first need to know: Bob Nash’s Toyama Grouses topped Reggie Geary’s Yokohama B-Corsairs 88-67 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium before a rowdy crowd of 2,014 supporters.

That forced the teams back on the floor for a decisive 10-minute mini-tiebreaker — dubbed Game 3 — to determine which team would advance to the Final Four next Saturday at Ariake Colosseum to take on the Niigata Albirex BB-Akita Northern Happinets winner.

Yokohama gutted out a 19-14 tiebreaker triumph to book a repeat spot in the Final Four.

Geary summed up the team’s triumph this way: “Obviously another historic day for the B-Corsairs organization. We’re going to our second Final Four in our second year. It really just shows the quality of what the players and staff and organization are trying to do here.”

Falling flat in Game 2, the B-Corsairs regained their swagger and dominance in the tiebreaker. This effort impressed Geary.

“They truly did show the heart, the fight and the resiliency of a champion today,” Geary said. “They had all the reasons in the world to hang their heads after the second game, but we really approached the third game with the right attitude and got off to a great start. And that great start and that attitude sustained us there when things got a little shaky there at the end.”

All-Star guard Burns credited his teammates for a unified effort in the mini-game.

“Obviously I’m proud. The team came out and responded in the last 10 minutes like we all expected that we should do,” said Burns, who announced he has “slight celebration plans” with his teammates before beginning preparations for the Final Four.

“Toyama was a tough challenger and had a great season,” Geary told fans after the game, standing at halfcourt. “And how about these guys (the B-Corsairs)? . . . All year they fought. . . . Everything that they were in control of they took responsibility for this season. I’m so proud of them.”

“We’ll do our best to bring home a championship,” he added.

Fans witnessed the B-Corsairs jump out to a 7-0 lead in the early going of the tiebreaker, with Thomas Kennedy scoring the first five points on a layup and a 3-pointer, and Minoru Kimura adding a jumper. Toyama was called for a 3-second violation and traveling in a sloppy first 5 minutes of the mini-game, and trailed 11-4 entering the second period.

Yokohama stretched the lead to 14-4 before Toyama mounted a comeback. An Angel Garcia 3-pointer sliced the lead in half, 14-7, and after a Yokohama turnover, Masashi Joho’s layup made it 14-9.

After a Burns offensive foul, the Grouses had a chance to make it a one-possession game, and Ira Brown delivered a putback to pull Toyama within 14-12 near the 2:40 mark. Brown went to the free-throw line with 1:18 left and sank both shots as Toyama crept within 16-14.

But Brown missed two free throws with 46.8 seconds left, shots that could’ve tied the game.

Burns made the second of two free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining for a 17-14 Yokohama lead. Kenji Yamada drained two fouls shots with 5.1 seconds left for the game’s final points, and a Garcia 3 was off the mark, an airball, as time expired.

Kabaya paced Yokohama with seven points in Game 3. Joho led Toyama with seven points.

“I think that today’s game was exciting,” said Kennedy, who had two steals in the tiebreaker. “Even though we had a letdown in the first game . . . we really came out focused, gathered ourselves and went out there as one unit and fought back to get the win.”

The Grouses, who are in their seventh season, ended years of disappointment by beating the Chiba Jets in their first-round series last weekend. They made major strides this season under Nash, the first-year bench boss.

Toyama went 37-21 in all games. Yokohama is 37-18 entering the Final Four.

Addressing the press after the game, Nash said, “I thought the fans were treated to two great games today. I thought in the second regulation game we played extremely well. We hit a lot of 3s and blew the game open and played extremely well.

“We had to do that in order to have an opportunity to play the overtime game. Otherwise, we would’ve been going home earlier. I love my players for the effort that they gave. We had faith in each other and it started on day one in training camp and carried over throughout the season and it showed tonight on the floor.”

Although the Grouses fell behind 14-4 to start Game 3, “we never wavered and we gave ourselves an opportunity to win,” Nash said. “We had an opportunity to tie the game from a couple of people, and we just came up short. It could be from the long season that we’ve had and the many minutes that our guys have played. . .”

“I have to give Yokohama credit. They did a marvelous job in the overtime period (tiebreaker). They hit big shots . . . and Kabaya hit a shot at the end of the first quarter to give them a bit more comfort. It was just their night. They executed well down the stretch and got good baskets and forced us to foul, and instead of losing by two or one, we lose by five,” Nash said.

Game 2′s third-quarter outburst made that possible. Toyama outscored the hosts 31-12 in the quarter to take a 69-46 advantage into the final period. Knowing that they needed a victory in Game 2 to force the mini-game tiebreaker, the Grouses played with impressive energy in the third quarter to take a commanding lead and put the B-Corsairs in a giant hole with 10 minutes left in the game. Ryuichi Horikawa had 10 third-quarter points, while Mito and Garcia both had seven.

The Grouses were 6-for-7 on 3s and 10-for-15 overall from the field in the third quarter, and got an extra boost from Brown’s four blocked shots in the quarter. Conversely, Yokohama couldn’t buy a basket with a blank check from Donald Trump. The B-Corsairs were 1-for-16 from the field in the quarter, including 0-for-9 on 3s.

“I’ll take the blame for that,” Geary said when asked about his team’s performance in third quarter. He admitted a few defensive lapses and missed assignments on defense happened .

Tatsunori Fujie, who was 1-for-8 from 3-point range in the series opener, made his fourth 3 of the game for the first points of the fourth quarter, putting the Grouses in front 72-46.

More than anyone, Brown, who played at Gonzaga University, which reached No.1 in The Associated Press Top 25 Division I poll this season, and Garcia imposed their will — their determination to win — on the game.

Garcia finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the third-seeded Grouses. Mito had 19 points, Fujie poured in 12, Jeremy Jacob had 11 and Horikawa 10. Brown chipped in with seven points and five blocks and nonstop hustle that carried him throughout his 37 minutes.

The Grouses were 13-for-23 overall on 3s; the B-Corsairs went 4-for-25.

Burns had 17 points for Yokohama. Kennedy scored 14 and Kabaya had 11.

Burns and Kennedy combined for 62 of Yokohama’s 86 points in Game 1. In the rematch, captain Kabaya, who hails from Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, scored the B-Corsairs’ first six points to stake them to a 6-3 lead, He hit a pair of free throws and nailed a pair of jumpers. Then he dribbled around, drawing multiple defenders before zipping a past into the post for Faye Pape Mour, who converted a layup to make it 8-3.

Garcia sank a 3-pointer and drew contact from Mour seconds later, sending Garcia to the foul line for a bonus shot. The four-point play cut it to 8-7 at the 5:56 mark of the opening quarter. Then Yokohama’s Burns entered the game with 5:35 to play in the first quarter. Mito put Toyama ahead 9-8 on a jumper. The B-Corsairs quickly reversed order, when Kenji Yamada drilled a 3-pointer for an 11-9 B-Corsairs lead.

Near the 2:25 mark of the opening quarter, a Garcia 3-ball put Toyama back in front for a few seconds — that is, until Minoru Kimura’s 3-pointer from the left wing sailed through the bottom of the net.

Burns’ runner in the lane accounted for the final points of the quarter as the hosts took a 23-19 lead into the second stanza.

Garcia scored 12 first-quarter points, avoiding foul trouble which sent him to the bench early in the opening period on Friday night. Garcia had 13 points in Game 1.

The B-Corsairs trailed 38-34 at halftime.

Kennedy had a quiet first half (two points, both from the charity stripe) after scoring 30 in Game 1. The Grouses gave him little room to operate and quickly cut in front of him — double teams were frequent — whenever he got the ball.

Garcia was the top scorer (16 points) for both teams before intermission and Mito had 10 points. Kabaya and Burns had nine and eight points, respectively for Yokohama.

Early in the third quarter, Mito and Fujie flushed wide-open 3s from the left wing as defenders were too slow to rotate. And Garcia’s left-handed jam — the dagger in an 8-0 quarter-opening spurt — prompted Geary to call a timeout at the 8:18 mark. Toyama was in front 46-34 at that point.

Then Fujie canned another 3 from practically the same spot, and Brown blocked a Kabaya jumper as the Grouses showed ferocious intensity at both ends of the floor.

The surge continued, though. Garcia dropped in a layup off his fingertips, Mito canned a jumper and followed up with a long offensive rebound and a streaking burst of speed to the hoop for a layup. And then Garcia knocked down a baseline 3 to beat the shot clock to increase the margin to 58-37 near the midway point of the quarter. In all, it was a 20-3 spurt to open the half until Garcia’s shot clock-beating shot.

Nash said his squad exceeded expectations this season, adding that when training camp began, he didn’t know what this team would accomplish. But he characterized it as a “great season” and said the franchise took an important big step by advancing to the second round for the first time. There’s no easy way to success,” he said, comparing his team’s journey to that of someone climbing stairs to reach their destination.

Meanwhile, for the B-Corsairs, attaining success for two straight postseasons has been a labor of love. And Kabaya said, “I’m happy to return to Ariake, happy with our effort (in the second round).”