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Fukuoka, Kyoto, Niigata join Yokohama in Final Four

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Final Four is set, with a pair of returning teams and two which haven’t been to the big show for a few seasons.

There will be a first-time champion this season. The reigning champion Ryukyu Golden Kings were knocked off by the fifth-seeded Kyoto Hannaryz in a hard-nosed Western Conference semifinal series. And three other aspiring champions are in the Final Four: Niigata Albirex BB, Yokohama B-Corsairs and Rizing Fukuoka.

The Eastern Conference final on May 18 will tip off at 2:10 p.m. on Saturday at Ariake Colosseum as Niigata, the regular-season East champion faces No. 2 Yokohama. In the Western Conference final, No. 2 Fukuoka takes on fifth-seeded Kyoto in the 6:10 p.m. clash. The conference finals champions will face off in next Sunday’s title game at 5:10 p.m., preceded by the third-place contest at 1:10.

Golden Kings 90, Hannaryz 60 (Game 2)

Hannaryz 19, Golden Kings 14 (Game 3/mini-tiebreaker)

In Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, Kyoto recovered from a blowout loss in Game 2 and rallied past the hosts in the mini-game to book a spot in the Final Four for the second straight season.

In the 10-minute tiebreaker, the top-seeded Golden Kings led 9-3 after 5 minutes. Coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s Hannaryz stormed back, outscoring Ryukyu 16-5 over the final 5-minute period to prolong their season and dethrone the defending champs at the same time.

For a team that was 0-8 to start the season, Kyoto’s steady improvement over the long 52-game season was as impressive as it was methodical for the veteran squad. Jermaine Boyette paced Kyoto (33-24) with five points in the 10-minute tiebreaker, which essentially served as a double-overtime clash after the second game with an additional halftime intermission thrown in there to give the players and coaches a chance to concoct a strategy and get a brief rest at the same time.

Boyette made two big steals, David Palmer and Masaharu Kataoka scored four points apiece and Kyosuke Setoyama drilled a key 3-pointer as teamwork carried Kyoto past Ryukyu.

The Golden Kings (43-12) simply ran out of gas. They overwhelmed the Hannaryz in Game 2 but didn’t maintain the same productivity in the mini-game.

Ryukyu shot 5-for-14 from the field in the tiebreaker, including 2-for-9 on 3-pointers. Anthony McHenry, the league’s regular-season MVP, had five points, Narito Namizato scored four and Shigeyuki Kinjo had three for coach Koto Toyama’s club.

In their lopsided Game 2 triumph, the Kings led 23-11 after one period and 40-26 at halftime. They pounded the Hannaryz in the third quarter, taking a 64-36 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Ryukyu’s Naoto Kosuge drained 7 of 9 3-pointers in a 22-point effort in Game 2 and Terrance Woodbury had 18 points. McHenry contributed 14 points, 13 rebounds and four assists and Jeff Newton had eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.

For Kyoto, Gyno Pomare scored 13 points, Yu Okada had 11 and Hayato Kantake poured in 10. David Palmer and Marcus Cousin finished with seven points apiece.

Rizing 73, Susanoo Magic 68

In Fukuoka, veteran standouts Josh Peppers and Julius Ashby scored 20 points apiece and Reggie Warren chipped in with a 12-point, 11-rebound, two-assist, two-steal, two-block outing as the hosts eliminated third-seeded Shimane.

The Rizing improved to 36-18. The Susanoo Magic ended their third season with a 35-31 record.

Ashby, a University of Colorado product, grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds, handed out a team-best three assists and made one block. He knocked down 8 of 10 free throws. Jun Nakanishi added 12 points and five rebounds.

The Rizing, guided by head coach Atsushi Kanazawa, led 57-53 at halftime and held off the visitors in a fierce battle in the fourth quarter.

Shimane shot 4-for-17 from beyond the arc and went 12-for-19 at the free-throw line.

Crediting his teammtes for their effort, Peppers told The Japan Times that the victory boiled down to “defense, simple and plain.”

Jeral Davis paced the Magic with 15 points. He had eight boards and three blocks. B.J. Puckett and Michael Parker each scored 13 points for Shimane. Parker had nine rebounds, two assists and one steal before fouling out in 29-plus minutes. Brandon Freeman, who scored 28 points in Game 1, was held to 11 points on Sunday. Koki Yabuuchi added seven points in the season-ending loss.

“We came up short, but we fought hard until the last seconds,” Davis said after the game.

Reflecting on Shimane’s disappointing final game, Parker, who played for the Rizing for four seasons (2007-11) told The Japan Times, “They finished the games better. The refs allowed them to be very physical and that is what they wanted.

“They are a good team with a good coach and they are my personal favorite to win the championship.”

In a Facebook message, Fukuoka’s Justin Johnson wrote, (We) just won the Western Conference semifinals. Hard work and dedication as a team put us in this position and we must finish the deal this coming up weekend in the Final Four. . . . Tokyo, here we come.”

For Fukuoka, this is the Kyushu-based franchise’s first trip to the Final Four since May 2008, when then-coach John Neumann guided the expansion club to a stunning upset of the host Takamatsu Five Arrows in the wild-card round.

Peppers is in his second tour of duty with Fukuoka — he previously played for Neumann — and he believes Kanazawa has put the Rizing in a position to be successful.

In preparation to take on a tough Shiimane squad, Kanazawa “stressed not doing anything different from what we have been doing and that’s playing good defense and using our many weapons on offense,” Peppers said. “He’s a good coach and when he comes up with a game plan we stick to it.

“We have a veteran team so collectively we make it happen.”

Albirex BB 88, Northern Happinets 58

In Niigata, the Eastern Conference regular-season champions trounced Akita to secure a spot in the Final Four for the first time since 2011.

The Albirex raked in 19 offensive rebounds and overpowered the Northern Happinets on the boards for the second time in as many days, picking up 51 rebounds to the visitors’ 35.

Floor leader Nile Murry had 12 points, 13 rebounds and four steals for Niigata, and Chris Holm delivered a big performance, finishing with 15 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and three blocks for 2012-13 Coach of the Year Matt Garrision’s team.

Yuichi Ikeda scored a team-best 20 for the Albirex (38-16). Ikeda sank 4 of 8 3-point shots. Kimitake Sato poured in 14 points, Rodney Webb had an 11-point effort and Shuhei Komatsu supplied nine points, five rebounds and two steals for Niigata, which led 30-24 at halftime.

The Albirex outscored the Northern Happinets 27-15 in the third quarter to take an 18-point advantage into the final period.

Niigata was 25-for-44 from inside the arc in a well-executed offensive game.

“What helped us get past them was hard work and following the scouting plan that both coaches (Garrison and longtime assistant Fujitaka Hiraoka) prepared for us, and playing hard defense and not worrying about the offense, our defense has been key for us all year,” Webb told The Japan Times before the team’s celebratory dinner, which he admitted would be “a feast.”

“Our coaches are great and very smart in basketball terms,” Webb added. “The team is very excited right now. We are going to enjoy today . . . and then it’s back to business on Tuesday.”

For Akita (28-29), Dion Harris was the top scorer with 18 points, Yuki Togashi scored 10 in the final game of his rookie season and Marshall Brown and Mike Anderson both had nine points.

The Happinets were held to 23-for-63 shooting from the field.