UTSUNOMIYA, TOCHIGI PREF. – The arena was all yellow and extremely loud.
For the Tochigi Brex, the energy created by their loyal fans gave them a big boost in an 80-73 win over the Chiba Jets in their B. League playoff opener at a jam-packed Brex Arena Utsunomiya on Saturday.
The Jets entered the playoffs with nine straight wins.
“Chiba’s tough and we’re not happy with just one win,” Brex head coach Tom Wisman said after the game, which drew 3,916 fans. “We’ve got to get our job done, so at this time we’re not feeling particularly good with just (this win). We’ve got to be focused and ready to complete the job tomorrow.”
The series resumes on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. at the same venue. If the Brex grab another W, they will advance to the semifinal round and if Chiba wins, the two will play a five minute-half mini-game to determine the series winner.
Tabuse agreed to the point that it was a big win for Tochigi, but added that it would “not mean anything” if the Brex don’t win on Sunday.
“We still have a game to play tomorrow,” the former NBA guard said. “But it feels great to play at our home court and want to win together with our fans.”
Sharpshooter Takatoshi Furukawa and ace scorer Ryan Rossiter stepped up and racked up 19 and 18 points, respectively, to help Tochigi take the significant first game of the series.
Furukawa hit four 3-pointers, one of which was a four-point play in the third quarter, and Rossiter had 15 points in the second half for the Brex, who captured the East Division title in the regular season with a 46-14 record.
The Brex led 40-32 at halftime capitalizing on a dominating effort in the second quarter, when they held Chiba to 12 points, and extended it to as many as 14 points by the middle of the third quarter.
The Jets made a comeback around Tyler Stone and bench player Shuta Hara and cut the deficit to two points with just over three minutes left in the game. Hara was in the zone, going 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point arc while Stone kept driving in with his exceptional one-one-one skills.
But the Brex stayed poised and managed to preserve their lead, with Rossiter scoring points in the final 1:20.
With less than a minute remaining, the Jets began to repeatedly foul Tochigi, but it did not work. Furukawa sank both free throws with 4.1 seconds left to secure the victory.
The Jets outscored Tochigi 46-26 in the paint, but those numbers actually indicated how the Brex wanted to defend against Chiba.
The Jets made the most 3-pointers (567) this season, way ahead of the Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (No. 2 with 487), and the Brex tried to limit the opponent’s outside shooting with their defense.
Chiba averaged 26.5 3-point attempts per game this season, but launched only 11 and knocked down just four of them (it went 0- for-3 in the first half).
“We followed our game plan very well,” Wisman said. “And tomorrow we need to hold Hara, he was 4-for-4. They are a team that can shoot 3s and they are getting going when they do that. So we will need to continue to have the focus.”
Furukawa said: “We knew that they attempt and make a lot of 3-pointers, but we held them in that area well today.”
Jets star point guard Yuki Togashi thought that Tochigi was determined to not let some of their key players score.
“(Shooters Kosuke) Ishii and (Ryumo) Ono didn’t have a single 3-point attempt today, and I barely had one attempt toward the end,” the diminutive player said. “Three-point shooting is one of our biggest offensive weapons and we got that held, they did not let us play in our rhythm today.”
The Brex, who were swept by the Jets in their most recent two-game showdown in late April, were 8-for-18 from behind the arc.
Versatile American Jeff Gibbs contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds coming off the bench, while combo guard Yusuke Endo chipped in with 11 points for Tochigi. Tabuse handed out a team-high five assists.
For the Jets, forward Michael Parker led the team with 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Jets bench boss Atsushi Ono said that the mental collapse that happened to some of his players also factored into the loss, which was represented by Stone’s technical foul when he complained about a call in the fourth quarter (after that he was benched for a while).
“I told our guys that we are not going to win if we don’t concentrate,” the first-year head coach said. “A technical foul or your frustration that could’ve altered the result, we don’t need that.”