The joy of winning never grows old.
YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS
Like a cold ice cream cone on a scorching summer day, winning always has a special — and satisfying — taste.
The Osaka Evessa captured their second bj-league title in as many years on Sunday, defeating the Takamatsu Five Arrows 94-78 to earn the winner’s trophy.
“It feels great of course,” a beaming Evessa power forward Lynn Washington said after his 18-point, 13-rebound effort. “It was our plan in the beginning of the season, and we came through.”
“We had a five-game losing streak earlier this season,” Osaka coach Kensaku Tennichi added. “Overall, this was a much harder season than last year. So I feel extremely happy about this victory. . . . That’s what I want to say.”
“I think last year was more a sense of accomplishment,” Evessa point guard Matt Lottich declared. “This year, I think it’s kind of a sense of relief. Coming in, we were the favorites. There was a lot more pressure. The league’s more popular, but it’s great being the hunted and not the (hunter). Step up and remain the top dog. . . . We are fortunate to be champions again.”
A crowd of 8,019 watched bj-league MVP David Palmer put on a sensational shooting display, scoring 33 points as the Kansai faithful roared in delight as shot after shot fell through the bottom of the net — 10 of 20 to be precise, including five 3-pointers.
“It’s great. I know if I’m passing and a guy is hot my stat line is filling up as well,” Lottich said. “Palmer’s just been carrying us for a while. We’ve had some injuries. He’s been doing everything — posting up, shooting 3s, and this weekend was just the culmination of the effort he’s put forth all season.”
The Five Arrows finished their season with a 26-16 record. Osaka went 31-11.
The Evessa, who led 28-22 after one quarter and 53-47 at halftime, held off every challenge the Five Arrows gave them.
Takamatsu trailed 70-63 entering the final period. The Five Arrows cut it to four but then missed back-to-back 3-pointers.
A fired-up Lottich buried a three to ignite a 10-0 title-clinching run for the Evessa. The spurt ended with Palmer’s 3-ball, which made it 80-67 with 3:35 to play.
“I think that was the turning point in the game,” Takamatsu’s Isaac Sojourner said later.
A key element of Osaka’s second straight title was its omnipresent poise. Consider: Osaka had 11 turnovers to Takamatsu’s 21.
Five Arrows coach Motofumi Aoki admitted preparation time for Osaka — less than 24 hours — was another factor in the outcome.
“We had really concentrated only on Niigata for three weeks,” Aoki said. “But we had not worked out for Osaka. So in this game today, especially in the second half, that was difficult for us, and we made some mistakes.”
But in the early going, Takamatsu’s offense was on a roll. Guard Kazuyuki Nakagawa (20 points), a midseason addition for Takamatsu, scored 11 first-quarter points.
In the second quarter, the Evessa extended their lead to 36-24 after Washington drained two free throws.
But the Five Arrows got back into the game with strong 3-point shooting. Rasheed Sparks (15 points, eight assists) drilled two 3s in the quarter, the second of which made it 40-32.
Nakagawa’s spot-up 3-ball cut the margin to 44-37, but the Evessa again pushed the lead to 12 points.
Trailing 51-39, Takamatsu regrouped and closed out the half with a strong offensive run, with Reggie Warren (23 points) draining two 3-point shots and Julius Ashby (20 points) kissing a shot off the glass.
The Five Arrows’ top 3-point shooter, Yu Okada was held to 1-for-7 on 3s, and after the game he admitted that it was the right decision for his coach to play him for only 20 minutes.
“He’s a great shooter and we knew we had to help on screens and we had to get a hand in his face — just make it hard on him,” Evessa center Jeff Newton said of Okada, who scored 23 points in his team’s semifinal victory over the Niigata Albirex BB.
Osaka had a 52-35 rebounding edge. Newton led the way with 16 boards, Washington had 11 and Palmer eight.
When the game clock was stopped, Osaka dominated, scoring 24 points on free throws to Takamatsu’s seven.
Before departing Ariake, Five Arrows players expressed their optimism about the future.
“Some people say you can’t build off of losses,” Sojourner said. “I don’t believe that. I think that if we can get our core group back and really just buckled down when the season starts again and recommit ourselves to a little bit better defense, we are going to be tougher next year.
“If we can keep it together, I think we’ll be all right. You’ll see us again. We definitely have a good team for that purpose: to go right back to the finals next year.”
Oita gets third place
In Sunday’s third-place game, the Oita HeatDevils routed the Niigata Albirex BB 90-72.
Oita, which didn’t qualify for the playoffs last year, outscored Niigata 22-9 in the second quarter and held a 54-41 edge on the glass.
HeatDevils center Andy Ellis scored a game-best 27 points, Mikey Marshall added 22, including 10-for-14 from the free-throw line, Justin Allen had 14 and Yukinori Suzuki scored 11 and dished out five assists. Oita finished the season with a 23-19 record.
Nick Davis, the Albirex’s All-Star center, had a team-high 17 points and 14 rebounds, Naoto Kosuge scored 15, Matt Garrison added 14 and Makoto Hasegawa had 12 and seven assists.
The Albirex had the game’s first lead, 2-0, on a Hasegawa layup, but only led once more (5-3).
“I’m relieved to win,” Oita coach Dai Oketani said, “because this game is the last game for this season. For next season, today’s victory is so important. With this win, we got confidence.
“If we play our basketball, we can beat any team in this league.”
After the game, Albirex coach Masaya Hirose said, “We played to our best and I am proud of my players.”
Hirose said he opted to stick to a zone defense because Oita’s Big Three — Ellis, Chris Ayer and Allen — can’t be defended one-on-one.
In the loss, Niigata’s Antoni Wyche sustained a thigh injury and asked to be taken out of the game. A day after scoring 17 points, Wyche had two points in 15 minutes. The Albirex missed his ability to penetrate and make things happen off the dribble.
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
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