The Toyama Grouses collected their ninth straight victory on Sunday, defeating the host Sendai 89ers 95-88.
Coach Bob Nash’s Grouses (40-10) are atop the bj-league’s Eastern Conference standings with two more games remaining on their regular-season schedule, April 26-27 against the visiting Tokyo Cinq Reves.
Toyama has won 13 of its last 14 games, overtaking the Akita Northern Happinets in its quest for the franchise’s first regular-season conference crown.
Masashi Joho paced the Grouses in the series final, scoring 21 points, sinking 3 of 6 3-pointers and dishing out seven assists. Ira Brown had 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals along with a block on a productive Sunday afternoon on the court. Tatsunori Fujie added 16 points and five assists for Toyama, which led 37-33 at halftime.
Takeshi Mito poured in 13 points and Sam Willard had 13 points and 12 rebounds for the visitors.
DeAngelo Hamilton led Sendai (23-25) with 20 points and 13 rebounds and matched Takehiko Shimura’s five assists for the team-high total. Hamilton also had nine of the 89ers’ 20 turnovers.
Travele Jones had 17 points and Dzaflo Larkai finished with 16 poInts and nine boards in the loss. Shimura had a 13-point afternoon.
Northern Happinets 84, Cinq Reves 81
In Akita, Yuki Togashi and Richard Roby scored 21 points apiece as the Northern Happinets completed a series sweep against Tokyo.
Center Chas McFarland also had a big performance, providing 19 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks for Akita (38-12). Shigehiro Taguchi scored nine points, all coming on 3-pointers, his specialty shot. Power forward Ruben Boykin added seven points and hauled in 14 rebounds.
For the Cinq Reves (13-35), Ricky Woods led the way with 27 points and four steals. Edward Morris had 24 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists and Yuji Ide scored 22 points. The rest of the team had only eight points.
Big Bulls 87, Crane Thunders 76
In Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, the Big Bulls stretched their winning streak to eight games by outplaying Gunma.
Lawrence Blackledge had 26 points, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks for Iwate (36-12) and Scootie Randall added 14 points, 11 boards and six assists, while Josh Peppers also pumped in 14 points in 15-plus minutes. Kenichi Takahashi scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting.
Iwate converted 32 of 58 shots from 2-point range and outscored the visitors in each of the first three quarters. The Big Bulls led 64-52 entering the fourth quarter.
Carlos Dixon paced Gunma (13-35) with 21 points and Dillion Sneed had 19 on 8-for-9 shooting, but was 3-for-12 at the free-throw line. James Hughes and Jermaine Green had nine points apiece for the Crane Thunders.
As a team, Gunma shot 13-for-26 at the line.
Rizing 92, Brave Warriors 89
In Fukuoka, the Rizing bounced back from a 22-point loss in the series opener to salvage a series split against Shinshu.
Reggie Warren’s 20-point, 13-rebound, six-assist performance energized Fukuoka (25-23), while veteran guard Masahiro Kano scored a season-high 18 points on a 8-for-8 shooting. Jun Nakanishi added 13 points, Cohey Aoki scored 12 and Julius Ashby had 11.
Reflecting on the team’s roller-coaster ride this season, Warren told The Japan Times that clinching a playoff berth is a big deal for the team.
“Man, it was huge for us after all the ups and downs of this season to actually still be able to make the playoffs,” Warren said. “It’s really big. We really didn’t bring any energy yesterday at all, but today we started the game with a lot of energy and we were determined to get the win today.
“It was a total team effort, proud of my guys today for responding after a terrible performance last night.”
The Rizing canned 10 of 20 3s.
Xavier Gibson scored a team-best 27 points and grabbed eight rebounds for the Brave Warriors (30-18), whose three-game win streak was halted. Patrick Sanders poured in 17 points and Jeff Parmer had 12. Shota Konno and Yosuke Saito each handed out five assists.
After the series wrapped up, Rizing coach James Duncan analyzed what took place in the weekend contests.
“From Saturday’s game I was extremely disappointed with our effort and desire to compete,” Duncan told The Japan Times. “We started the game slow and we paid the price against the Warriors. They did whatever they wanted on the court. And shot the ball extremely well.”
Duncan’s mood was the exact opposite a day later. He said: “Sunday’s game was a completely different team, the effort was great and our hunger to compete at a high level was off the charts. The results were positive for us at the end of the game.
“Masa (Masahiro Kano) gave us a huge boost off the bench, Jun (Nakanishi) was able to get going offensively and Jules (Julius Ashby) gave us a good inside presence. Cohey (Aoki) and Reggie (Warren) made some big plays down the stretch and our defense and rebounding held strong. The biggest stat that sticks out is 48-36 rebounding for us.”
Looking at the Shinshu lineup, he had this to say: “Gibson and Sanders stood out the most for their team. They will be a tough team when the playoffs arrive. They can do many things offensively.”
In their past 10 games, the Rizing, the championship runnerup last season who are currently in fourth place in the West, have won seven games.
“Overall, the process continues,” said Duncan. “I’m happy we were able to bounce back with the right effort. We accomplished one of our goals in making the playoffs. We will continue to build with the idea (and) we must bring the right desire and hunger to compete at a high level. We have to do to it together and good things will happen.”
Susanoo Magic 80, Bambitious 66
In Nara, Tatsuhiro Yokoo buried 5 of 6 3-pointers in a 22-point outing and Edward Yamamoto scored 19 points and dished out seven assists as Shimane earned a series split against the hosts.
Big man Shawn Malloy added 18 points, 17 rebounds and four assists for the undermanned Magic (9-39), who used seven players. Adrian Thomas chipped in with nine points for coach Reggie Hanson’s squad, which had five players with three or more assists.
Shimane outscored the Bambitious 22-8 in the pivotal fourth quarter.
Joe Chapman was Nara’s top scorer with 15 points and Jamar Abrams put 13 points on the board. Anthony Brown finished with nine points and Tatsuya Suzuki and Adrian Moss had eight points apiece, with Moss rejecting four shots for the Bambitious (18-32).
After the game, Shimane coach Reggie Hanson provided some insight about the weekend series in an interview with The Japan Times.
“The first game, we were controlling the tempo for 2 1/2 quarters, then we started having too many turnovers and missing box-outs as well as we missed 13 layups for the game,” Hanson said about Saturday’s game. “We gave then too many good looks.
“In the second game, we finally played a 40-minute game. We held Nara to 44 percent on field goals. We had 23 assists to only 12 turnovers, and shot 19-for-20 from the free-throw line.
“We are still down player numbers from injuries,” he continued. “We only played with two Americans tonight, with one sitting most of the second half due to foul trouble. So that made me more proud of our guys. Total team sacrifice and effort.
Which players — on both teams — impressed Hanson with their play?
“Our point guard, Edward (Yamamoto), did a great job of controlling the tempo for us and making Nara defend us in the half-court,” the coach said.
“Yokoo made big shots for us. He only missed one field-goal (attempt) for the game. Shawn (Malloy) had to play 40 minutes and he finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds without fatiguing. (Kazuya “J.” Hatano) came off the bench and played great defense on Chapman. He also helped keep the offense flowing for us. Jay is a do-the-dirty-work type of player.”
“Chapman was very tough,” concluded Hanson. “He makes tough shots. Hard to defend.”
Golden Kings 80, Phoenix 68
In Okinawa City, Ryukyu became the first franchise in league history to win 40 regular-season games three times and completed a sweep against Hamamatsu.
Draelon Burns sparked the Golden Kings (40-8, 24-2 at home) with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists and Ryuichi Kishimoto had 13 points. Morihisa Yamauchi scored 12 points and Shigeyuki Kinjo and Jeff Newton added 10 apiece in the well-rounded triumph. Newton, the lone five-time title winner in league history, pulled down a team-high eight rebounds.
For the Phoenix (26-22), Jermaine Dixon topped the scoring chart with 23 points and Aki Chambers netted 13.
The Golden Kings held the out-of-towners to 21-for-58 shooting.
B-Corsairs 86, Broncos 67
In Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Temple University product Wayne Marshall had 18 points, 11 rebounds and three steals and Masayuki Kabaya, Omar Reed and Kenji Yamada handed out six, seven and eight assists, respectively, in a blowout win over struggling Saitama.
The defending champion B-Corsairs improved to 22-26 with their second victory in as many days over the Broncos (5-43, who have the 21-team league’s worst record).
Yokohama forward Marquise Gray had 16 points, while Reed added 16 points and 11 rebounds and Marcus Simmons contributed 15 points. Kabaya had a 10-point game. Yosuke Maeda scored five points.
Saitama, playing the series without injured league scoring leader John “Helicopter” Humphrey, had two double-digit scorers: Michael Joiner (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Anwar Ferguson (14 points). Yuki Nobuhira led the team with five assists.
Albirex BB 94, Wat’s 76
In Niigata, the Albirex’s hot-shooting veterans sparked the team to a resounding victory over Aomori.
Niigata (29-21) drained 13 of 28 3s (46.4 percent) and also shot 57.9 percent from inside the arc to rebound from a Saturday loss.
Kimitake Sato was the hosts’ leading scorer, getting 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Shuhei Komatsu knocked down 5 of 7 3s in a 17-point effort. Patrick Sullivan had 15 points, Nile Murry scored 14 and Thomas Kennedy 11. Ryota Kato, a 21-year-old guard, finished with eight points while making his second start of the season and playing a season-high 21 minutes.
Gordon Klaiber scored 19 points for the Wat’s (24-24). He drained five 3s.
Aomori’s Makoto Sawaguchi and Yuki Kitamuki had 14 and 11 points, respectively, the latter also handed out a team-high six assists. Stanley Ocitti and Abdullahi Kuso both scored eight points. Kuso was held to seven rebounds after grabbing 20 in the series opener.
Hannaryz 91, HeatDevils 77
In Kyoto, Yu Okada made five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 23 points as the Hannaryz routed Oita.
Six Kyoto players chalked up two or more assists as its offense clicked on the afternoon. Shun Watanuki, who scored 10 points, was the team’s assist leader (five), while Okada, Chris Holm and David Palmer had three apiece.
Palmer poured in 17 points with eight rebounds and three steals and Takuya Komoda had a 12-point afternoon. Holm notched a double-double (11 points, 17 rebounds, including eight off the offensive glass) for the Hannaryz (33-17), who have locked up the No.2 seed for the playoffs.
Kyoto coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s team has earned a bye into the Western Conference semifinals as it aims to reach the Final Four for the third straight season.
For the HeatDevils (20-30), Verdell Jones led the way with 28 points. Gabe McCulley and Byron Allen scored 12 apiece and Shuichi Takada had 10 points, reaching double figures for the third consecutive game.
Planning for a new team: A business group in Nagasaki is laying the groundwork for a possible expansion franchise in Nagasaki.
The Nagasaki Shimbun reported over the weekend that the group seeks to launch a bj-league team for the 2015-16 season.