Former UConn player Gavin Edwards and NBL rookie Makoto Hiejima scored 22 points apiece to help the Aisin SeaHorses advance to the semifinals of the 89th All-Japan Championship with a 96-79 win over the Tsukuba Robots on Saturday.
Edwards, a 207-cm player, had a game-best 16 rebounds and four blocks as well.
The Robots provided a challenge to the SeaHorses, who are currently tied for the best record in the NBL (24-2), early on. But the powerhouse squad eventually prevailed and outperformed Tsukuba.
“We had some hard times early, but were able to adjust to (the Robots) as our bodies began moving,” Aisin point guard Shinsuke Kashiwagi said after the game at Yoyogi National Gymnasium. “We were able to do what we were supposed to do in the end.”
Last year, Aisin finished as the tournament runnerup to the Panasonic Trians (predecessor of the Wakayama Trians). But Kashiwagi said that the team didn’t enter nationals, also known as the Emperor’s Cup, looking for revenge.
“We’ve got new players and it’s not the same team,” he said. “We are the challengers. We need to have even more focus from this point on to win.”
For the Robots, Satoshi Kawai (26), Hiroya Ogane (25) and Lamar Sanders (20) racked up more than 20 points offensively. But the club was outrebounded by Aisin 49-31.
“Our focus was to give them a good game,” Tsukuba head coach Donte’ Hill said. “We won the first quarter and we won the fourth quarter. We lost the third quarter by four points. But the second quarter, we lost by 19 points. So that was the difference, we couldn’t overcome the third-quarter deficit.”
The Robots have a 6-20 record during the regular season.
In the other quarterfinal game, Tokai University played excellent in the first half, but the Toshiba Brave Thunders, who have the best winning percentage in the NBL along with Aisin, ended up winning 88-65.
In the women’s quarterfinals, the JX-Eneos Sunflowers edged the Denso Iris 67-63, while the Mitsubishi Electric Koalas defeated the Chanson V-Magic 65-62.