Wherever the play, the Iwate Big Bulls seem to know what’s expected of them.
That comes from head coach Dai Oketani’s clear-cut message: play hard-nosed defense and smart offense.
That recipe for success has worked well on the road this season for the Big Bulls, who defeated the host Toyama Grouses 85-77 on Saturday night in their bj-league series opener.
Iwate (21-8 overall) improved to 13-4 in away games, picking up a victory in an intense duel against the Eastern Conference’s second-place team, a quality rival the Big Bulls may meet up with in the playoffs this spring.
Temple University product Scootie Randall, a rookie pro, had 24 points to lead Iwate, including 9-for-10 shooting from inside the arc. Teammate Kenichi Takahashi poured in 18 points and Gyno Pomare, the league’s January MVP winner, contributed 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Lawrence Blackledge scored 11 points.
Iwate made 20 of 22 free throws.
The third-place Big Bulls are 1-2 against Toyama this season.
Josh Gross paced the Grouses (23-8) with 16 points and Masashi Joho and Takeshi Mito both had 15. Ira Brown added 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Wat’s 74, Cinq Reves 66
In Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Gordon Klaiber scored 16 points and Makoto Sawaguchi and Abdullahi Kuso each had 15 to lead the first-year franchise past Tokyo.
Kuso hauled in 12 rebounds to complete the double-double for Aomori (13-16).
Tokyo (7-22) struggled from 3-pointe range, missing 19 of 23 shots.
Edward Morris led the visitors with 20 points, Yuji Ide netted 14 and Ricky Woods 12. Anthony Stover had eight points and 17 rebounds in the loss.
Northern Happinets 100, Brave Warriors 79
In Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, All-Star MVP Yuki Togashi orchestrated the high-scoring Akita offense with flair and precision, scoring 13 points and dishing out 15 assists as the Northern Happinets extended their winning streak to 12 games.
Akita (29-4) took a 52-32 advantage into the third quarter.
Togashi, still just 20 years old, leads the 21-team league in assists (7.2 per game).
Happinets power forward Ruben Boykin continued his stellar all-around play with 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists and Richard Roby scored 18 points, Yuto Otsuka supplied 14 and Chas McFarland 13 points and 12 rebounds.
For Shinshu (20-9), Dai Suzuki scored a team-high 19 points, Patrick Sanders finished with 18 and Xavier Gibson 10.
The Brave Warriors had no answer for Akita’s efficient offense, which converted 31 of 48 shots from 2-point range.
B-Corsairs 76, 89ers 75
In Sendai, All-Star snub Marquise Gray provided a bold reminder that he is one of the league’s elite players.
The high-energy forward had 14 points, 20 rebounds and six assists in defending champion Yokohama’s narrow victory and Marcus Simmons chipped in with 22 points. Omar Reed had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Masayuki Kabaya came back from a two-game injury absence and scored 12 points for the B-Corsairs (14-15), who were awarded 31 free throws (24 makes), 20 more attempts than their opponent.
For Sendai (13-16), Fumiya Sato sank five 3-pointers in a 19-point effort. Travele Jones and Wendell White both scored 15 points, the former adding eight boards and five assists and the latter adding nine rebounds.
Phoenix 69, HeatDevils 54
In Hamamatsu, balance scoring keyed the victory for coach Tomoya Higashino’s squad in the series opener against Oita.
Jermaine Dixon and Masahiro Oguchi finished atop the scoring chart with 14 points apiece for Hamamatsu (20-11). Shinnosuke Oishi and Atsuya Ota contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Hiroki Oshiro paced the HeatDevils (14-17) with 14 points and Shuichi Takada had 10.
Broncos 85, Susanoo Magic 78
In Saitama, Michael Joiner scored a game-best 24 points and John “Helicopter” Humphrey had 15 as the Broncos topped Shimane in a matchup of last-place teams.
Masahide Haraguchi poured in 12 points for Saitama (4-27).
T.J. Cummings led the Magic (6-25) with 27 points and 17 rebounds. Teammate Adrian Thomas scored 16 points.
Despite the loss, Shimane coach Reggie Hanson believes his team is making progress.
“Our team is getting much better,” Hanson told The Japan Times after the game. “We have to learn how to finish games now. We have been up 13 to 20 points in the second half in each of our last four games then lost three of them by close margins. We are competing hard.”
Crane Thunders 91, Albirex 84
In Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, three 20-point scorers guided the hosts past Niigata.
Carlos Dixon (24 points), Kenya Tomori (22) and Dillion Sneed (20) sparked the Crane Thunders offense, and Gunma improved to 7-24. Newcomer James Hughes had 12 points in his Crane Thunders debut.
Nile Murry was Niigata’s top scorer with 18 points, Patrick Sullivan had 17 and Yuichi Ikeda 11.
Lakestars 89, Five Arrows 73
In Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture, the hosts raced out to a 28-13 lead by the end of the first quarter en route to victory over Takamatstu.
Dionisio Gomez’s 22-point performance and Marshall Brown’s 21 points led the way for Shiga (15-16). Guard Yutaka Yokoe had one of his top games, too, contributing 15 points and dishing out seven assists.
Dexter Lyons was the top scorer for the Five Arrows with 18 points and Paul Williams had 17 on 8-for-10 shooting. Andrais Thornton added 11 points and 12 boards for Takamatsu (13-18).
Hannaryz 78, Rizing 62
In Fukuoka, Kyoto shot 58.8 percent from inside the arc and had five double-digit scorers in a convincing win over the hosts.
Joe Werner had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Edwin Ubiles, a former NBA player, had 15 points for the Hannaryz (21-12). David Palmer scored 12 points and Yu Okada and Chris Holm both had 10. Holm also grabbed 15 rebounds.
For Fukuoka (13-18), Reggie Warren had 17 points and seven rebounds and Seth Tarver scored 16 points.
Golden Kings 72, Evessa 63
In Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, Ryukyu held off Osaka, raising its home record to a jaw-dropping 16-1.
The Golden Kings’ 25-4 record is best in the 10-team Western Conference.
The Evessa slipped to 13-18.
(Note: Look for more details on Ryukyu’s triumph in the next article.)