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Kennedy gives Niigata edge over Shinshu

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Thomas Kennedy thrived in pressure-packed games for the Yokohama B-Corsairs last season en route to the franchise’s bj-league championship.

This season, his role as a go-to scorer has seen him suit up for the Shimane Susanoo Magic (10 games), followed by a 14-game stint with the NBL’s Chiba Jets, reuniting with former B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary. In February, he joined his third team of the 2013-14 basketball season, the Niigata Albirex BB — the only one of the three to advance to the postseason in either league. Kennedy averaged 18.0 points in 22 games for Niigata to wrap up the bj-league’s regular season.

It’s not as if bj-league and NBL team executives needed a reminder of Kennedy’s polished scoring skills, but they were given one on Sunday afternoon, when he took over during Game 3, aka the mini-game tiebreaker, against the host Shinshu Brave Warriors in Chikuma, Nagano Prefecture. The University of Detroit Mercy alum sank three 3-pointers and led all players with 11 points during the 10-minute sink-or-swim mini-game that took place following the regularly scheduled Game 2.

Niigata, the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, defeated host Shinshu 20-19 in the mini-game. The Albirex were forced to play a tiebreaker, 10-minute game after falling 86-78 in Game 2.

The fourth-seeded Brave Warriors, playing their first-ever playoff series, came out strong in the earlier 40-minute contest, leading 26-20 after one quarter and 41-30 at halftime. Coach Ryuji Kawai’s team took a 63-54 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Xavier Gibson scored 21 points and blocked three shots and Shota Konno had 19 points, knocking down 3 of 4 3s. Takato Saito added 14 points and four 3s, while Patrick Sanders delivered 13 points and 11 rebounds. Jeff Parmer chipped in with 12 points and seven rebounds.

Shuhei Komatsu paced the Albirex (33-22 overall) with 22 points, including 6 of 8 3-pointers, in Game 2. Kennedy buried three 3s in a 16-point effort with five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Nile Murry contributed 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Kimitake Sato scored 12 points. Yuichi Ikeda had eight.

The Brave Warriors out-rebounded the Albirex 50-33, including 20-7 on the offensive glass to force the mini-game.

Then Kennedy took over in the down-to-the-wire clash.

Patrick Sullivan scored five points in the mini-game and Murry and Ikeda had two apiece. Sato dished out two assists.

Shinshu wrapped up its season with a 34-21 record.

The Toyama Grouses, the East’s regular-season champion, will play host to Niigata this Saturday and Sunday.

Northern Happinets 86, Wat’s 80

In Akita, the hosts’ high-octane offense coped with shooting woes by backcourt mates Yuki Togashi and Shigehiro Taguchi, who combined to shoot 0-for-16 from the field, as other players picked up the scoring slack.

Akita prevailed in Game 2 to book a ticket to the Eastern Conference semifinals, while Aomori’s inaugural season ended in a hard-fought loss.

The third-seeded Northern Happinets (42-12) will travel to face the No. 2 Iwate Big Bulls (40-12) next weekend.

The sixth-seeded Wat’s closed out a better-than-expected 27-27 season as an expansion team under bench boss Koju Munakata.

Happinets star Richard Roby, named the league’s Sixth Man Award winner, had 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting with eight rebounds. Deshawn Stephens added 18 points and eight rebounds. Ruben Boykin finished with 17 points, 11 boards and two assists. Chas McFarland had 13 points and two blocks for Akita, which led 61-58 entering the fourth quarter.

The Wat’s held a 61-47 advantage in rebounds, but shot 12-for-25 at the free-throw line. They had only eight turnovers.

Gordon Klaiber, who canned 6 of 11 3s, led Aomori with 24 points. Abdullahi Kuso added 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks, while Yuki Kitamuki had a 13-point, three-assist afternoon. Stanley Ocitti chipped in with 11 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals, and Makoto Sawaguchi added eight points and four assists.

After the game, Klaiber summed up the feelings of many within the Wat’s organization in a Facebook post. “Well, the season has officialy ended today with our playoff exit,” Klaiber wrote. “We might have lost but we are not losers. We came a long way and we stayed together the whole season like a family. It was a good season with great teammates, coaching and office staff.”

Togashi finished with five points and seven assists.

The Happinets sealed the win at the free-throw line, making 21 of 27 shots.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Lakestars 67, Evessa 66 (Game 2)

Lakestars 33, Evessa 16 (Game 3, tiebreaker)

In Yasu, Shiga Prefecture, coach Chris Boettcher’s team bounced back from a lackluster performance in Game 1 and advanced to the conference semifinals by eliminating Osaka.

In Game 2, the score was knotted at 49-49 after three quarters.

The Lakestars simply made more big plays to win by the slimmest of margins.

Shiga’s Marshall Brown notched a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds), as did Dionisio Gomez (16 points, 10 boards). Yutaka Yokoe scored 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting,

Jumpei Nakama poured in nine points and Brandon Fields supplied eight points and seven assists for the Lakestars, who grabbed 47 rebounds and held Osaka to 39.

Naoto Nakamura paced the Evessa (25-30) with 15 points and D’Andre Bell scored 13. Darko Cohadarevic added 10 points and nine rebounds and Zach Andrews had a nine-point outing.

Osaka’s Kevin Galloway finished with seven points, eight assists and seven turnovers, while Yosuke Sugawara had seven points.

In the mini-game, Shiga (29-26) converted 12 of 12 free-throw attempts, getting 4 of 4 from both Brown (10 points) and Yokoe (nine points). Third-year Lakestar standout Gomez, meanwhile, added eight points and hauled in five rebounds in the extra 10-minute contest, with Nakama dishing out three assists.

Nakamura scored six points in the mini-game during which the Evessa had eight costly turnovers.

Shiga travels to face second-seeded Kyoto on May 10 and 11 in a Kansai showdown with a trip to the Final Four on the line.

Rizing 64, Phoenix 61 (Game 2)

Phoenix 21, Rizing 14 (Game 3, tiebreaker)

In Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture, Fukuoka extended its season by edging the hosts in a tight Game 2, but fell short in the 10-minute mini-game.

As a result, the Rizing ended their season with a 27-28 record.

The Phoenix, who took a three-game losing streak into the playoffs, are now 29-26 and await a showdown in Okinawa next weekend against the top-seeded Ryukyu Golden Kings.

Hamamatsu star Jermaine Dixon took over in the mini-game, scoring 12 points to lead all players. Veteran guard Masahiro Oguchi had four points and Atsuya Ota and Cyrus Tate came through with two apiece.

Cohey Aoki led the Rizing’s tiebreaker scoring attack with five points, but the visitors were 5-for-10 at the free-throw line, continuing their struggles from Game 2 (19-for-34).

In Game 2, the teams were tied at 31-31 at halftime. The Rizing had pulled ahead 50-44 entering the fourth quarter, but their poor free-throw shooting didn’t provide any margin for comfort.

David Palmer had a team-high 16 points for Fukuoka and Aoki scored 11. Akitomo Takeno poured in nine points and Masahiro Kano and Reggie Warren both had seven.

Hamamatsu also struggled at the charity stripe, making 13 of 26.

Tate had a big performance in the Game 2 with 24 points, eight boards and two assists. Ray Nixon added 11 points and 13 rebounds and Dixon had nine points and five assists, followed by Aki Chambers’ five-point, three-assist effort.