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East tops West in All-Star Game

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

In a fast-paced game highlighted by slam dunks (19 in all) and rapid-fire 3-point shooting (the teams combined for 87), a stellar start and balanced scoring carried the Eastern Conference to a 98-91 triumph over the Western Conference at the 2013-14 All-Star Game on Sunday afternoon.

Akita Northern Happinets guard Yuki Togashi, a second-year pro, led the East with 23 points and dished out five assists while knifing his way into the lane for scoring chances, too. He set the tone for the team’s 3-point shooting attack, knocking down 5 of 10. Akita forward Richard Roby, longtime NBA forward Kenyon Martin’s brother, added 17 points on 8-for-17 shooting.

East reserve guard Nile Murry (Niigata Albirex BB) chipped in with 15 points. Steady big man Wendell White (Sendai 89ers) contributed 14 points, 13 rebounds and six assists at Akita Municipal Gymnasium before an announced crowd of 4,572.

The East, guided by Akita coach Kazuo Nakamura, who donned a pink suit jacket for the game, played a familiar brand of ball, e.g. replicating the Happinets’ perimeter-based attack. Nakamura’s squad attempted 54 3s in the 40-minute game, with 14 finding their intended target.

The West trailed 29-14 after the first quarter and 58-40 at halftime.

For West bench boss Yukinori Suzuki, the Oita HeatDevils coach, it was a formidable deficit to overcome, but his players came out hungry and determined to secure a comeback in the final two quarters. The West outscored the East 26-21 in the third quarter and 25-19 in the final stanza, but the East’s hot start proved to be a defining trait of the game’s outcome.

The 20-year-old Togashi, who played his final high school season at Montrose Christian School in Maryland, where NBA superstar Kevin Durant attended, received MVP honors, becoming the youngest winner of the award in league history.

Togashi leads the league in assists (7.0 per game), which has helped Akita’s ascent in the East. Entering the All-Star break, the Happinets (26-4) are in first place in the 11-team conference.

“(My) shooting was good in the first half and I was able to find a better rhythm (as the game continued),” Togashi said after the game.

With the All-Star Game in Akita for the first time, local fans expressed fervent support for their hometown team’s players, which helped propel four Happinets into the starting lineup, another first in All-Star history. Togashi, backcourt mate Shigehiro Taguchi (five points) and Akita forwards Ruben Boykin (six points, game-high 16 rebounds, six assists) and Roby were on the court for the opening tipoff along with White.

“The game today was great,” said Saitama’s John “Helicopter” Humphrey, who participated in the league’s inaugural All-Star Game in January 2007 in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, and had three points, two assists and steal for the East off the bench on Sunday. “I had fun. The crowd was great.”

He added: “I think the league should make it a weekend event- dunk contest and 3-point (competition) on Saturday. Maybe even a rookie-sophomore game.”

Six-time All-Star guard Masashi Joho, Humphrey’s ex-Tokyo Apache teammate who is now in his third season with the Toyama Grouses, had seven points and a game-best three steals.

The East finished with 23 assists and 11 turnovers. The West had 18 assists and 18 turnovers. Nakamura commented after the game that the East’s strong start was a good omen. Based on his productivity and the flow of the game, Nakamura said “I thought Togashi will take MVP (honors) from the beginning . . .”

Swingman Edwin Ubiles, a former Washington Wizard and the lone ex-NBA player in the All-Star Game, provided instant offense for the West. The Kyoto Hannaryz star poured in 27 points in 21-plus minutes of action, making 12 of 19 shots. He had seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. He was named the game’s Most Impressive Player, an honor given to the top player on the losing team.

“This season is my first visit to Japan,” Ubiles said. “But being chosen for the All-Star Game and being able to play in front of so many boosters was a good experience.”

Shiga’s Marshall Brown notched a double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) for the West, while Shimane’s Jeral “Stretch” Davis had 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting (five dunks), nine rebounds and a block. Hamamatsu’s Atsuya Ota added nine points and five boards, while Ryukyu’s Anthony McHenry supplied seven points, seven rebounds and six assists for Suzuki’s squad.

Osaka’s Zach Andrews contributed four points and eight boards. Kyoto guard Hikaru Kusaka, a curious All-Star selection as a starter for the West due to the fact he’s 11th on his team in minutes played and is averaging 1.7 ppg in the regular season, scored zero points on 0-for-2 shooting in 16:38 of court time. Fukuoka’s Cohey Aoki, the only eight-time All-Star in league history, had two points.

The West made 6 of 33 3-pointers, with Brown leading the way with a pair.

In the paint: Gunma was awarded the 2014-15 All-Star Game, which coincided with the league’s 10th-season anniversary. . . . The East’s scoring total on Sunday marked the first time the winning team did not top 100 points in an All-Star Game. . . . The all-time series is now tied at 4-4, with the East snapping the West’s four-game All-Star win streak. . . . Shinshu’s Patrick Sanders, a Cal-Irvine alum, won the 3-Point Shootout and Andrews, a Bradley University product, claimed the Slam Dunk Contest title while donning a Superman T-shirt and edging Ubiles in the final round. Sanders said “the warm support of everyone” contributed to his victory. Sanders topped Kyoto’s Yu Okada 15-13 in the final round of the 3-Point Shootout.