HIRATSUKA, KANAGAWA PREF. – Defending champion Yokohama B-Corsairs had no answer for the high-energy Iwate Big Bulls in their bj-league series opener on Friday.
Yokohama failed to mount a serious comeback in the second half as Iwate imposed its will on the game. The Big Bulls rolled to an 87-71 victory at Hiratsuka Municipal Gymnasium.
Iwate’s potent inside-outside offensive attack, concocted by two-time title-winning coach Dai Oketani, proved lethal against the lethargic B-Corsairs, who were often a step too slow or simply overmatched.
Above all, the Big Bulls’ impeccable timing — at least it appeared that way on almost every defensive stand — was the biggest factor. Gyno Pomare and Lawrence Blackledge each blocked six shots for Iwate (4-3). That helped limit Yokohama (4-3) to 16-for-45 shooting from inside the arc.
Yokohama trailed by double digits for the entire second half.
After the game, B-Corsairs coach Michael Katsuhisa acknowledged his team did not play well, saying “it’s a pity how we played.”
“We will play harder tomorrow,” the first-year coach said, addressing the crowd moments after the game ended.
Yokohama trailed 44-30 after the second quarter, and that advantage increased to 65-47 for Iwate entering the final period.
Simply put, the Big Bulls had a significant edge in executing what they wanted to accomplish on offense and defense. Conversely, the B-Corsairs were too inconsistent for the majority of the game.
The first quarter, however, was a different story.
That was the only time that Yokohama was able to match Iwate’s intensity.
The opening stanza was highlighted by big spurts for both Eastern Conference clubs. With the score knotted 6-6, Iwate used a 9-0 spurt to take the first commanding lead of the game, 15-6, capped by post player Gyno Pomare’s jumper.
Yokohama answered with a 9-0 run to tie it at 15-15, and it was 17-17 at the end of the quarter.
Sixth man Josh Peppers sparked the Big Bulls in the game-changing second quarter, when he had 13 points, weaving through traffic, attacking the basket, canning long-range shots and showcasing his polished all-around offensive game.
Peppers has been a big star in the bj-league since the 2007-08 season when original Rizing Fukuoka coach John Neumann brought him to Japan to be a featured scorer for the expansion squad.
A Peppers 3-pointer put the visitors ahead 35-24 near the midway point of the second quarter.
While Peppers was getting good looks in transition and making tough shots in halfcourt sets with equal precision, Iwate guards Kenichi Takahashi, Masato Tsukino and Tsubasa Yonamine were pushing the ball and making snap decisions to help run the offense. Insider bangers Pomare and Lawrence Blackledge were equally efficient and aggressive in putting their mark on the game. Blackledge, in particular, challenged shooters, blocking shots and altering the trajectory of several others.
At the same time, Iwate’s defensive rotations were crisp and nearly flawless, closing the gaps that Yokohama wanted to penetrate through. As a result, the Yokohama offense was cold for large stretches of the game.
With the third quarter winding down, Peppers was sent to the free-throw line for two shots, his second make giving Iwate its largest lead of the game, 65-44 with 1:11 left in the quarter.
The lead would be hit 20 or more points on other occasions down the stretch, including: 73-51 on a pair of Blackledge free throws with 7:58 left in the game; and 75-53 on a Blackledge bucket from close range.
Yokohama started hitting shots with greater regularity in the final quarter, using a 14-2 run to pull within 78-65 with 3:15 to play. But it was too little, too late.
Perhaps more than anything it was Blackledge’s tomahawk jam in the first quarter, which put his team in front 10-6, that signaled the shift in the game’s momentum.
Peppers paced Iwate with 23 points. Blackledge had 21 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and four assists along with the aforementioned six blocks. He put his stamp on the game in a big, big way, the Marquette University product never appearing to run out of stamina during nearly 34 minutes of brilliant effort.
Takahashi added 17 points, canned all three of his 3-point shots and handed out five assists. Pomare finished with a double-double (10 points, 13 rebounds).
For Yokohama, Marquise Gray had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Masayuki Kabaya scored 14 points and Omar Reed finished with 12 points and 14 boards.
Elsewhere Friday, the Rizing Fukuoka defeated the visiting Bambitious Nara 80-57 and the host Aomori Wat’s edged the Gunma Crane Thunders 68-66.
In the Rizing win, coach Mack Tuck’s club jumped out to a 25-9 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Masahiro Kano scored a season-high 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting for Fukuoka (4-5 overall, 3-0 at home), with five steals in the books, too. Reggie Warren had 18 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and three steals and Julius Ashby added 10 points and eight boards for the Rizing. Cohey Aoki and Seth Tarver scored nine points apiece.
Joe Chapman led Nara (0-7 with 20 points. Adrian Moss had 13 points and 14 rebounds and Anthony Brown scored 10 points with 11 boards.
The Bambitious, a first-year squad, shot 5-for-28 from beyond the 3-point arc.
In Aomori’s two-point triumph, Gordon Klaiber led the victors with 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Yuki Kitamuki added 10 points and Anthony Kent had nine points and 10 boards for the expansion Wat’s (5-4), who have won three straight and four of their last five games.
Marvell Waithe had 18 points and 11 rebounds for Gunma (1-6), Darko Cohadarevic scored 13 points, Lewis Witcher had 11 and Masashi Obuchi 10.