SENDAI — Mike and Mary DeWitz traveled thousands of kilometers from their Arizona home to watch their son play basketball over the weekend.
They picked a good week to make this treacherous journey.
Nick DeWitz, a starting forward for the Sendai 89ers, scored a game-high 30 points, made 11 of 16 shots from the field, pulled down six rebounds, handed out five assists, swatted four shots and made three steals for good measure.
In short, he had a big hand in Sendai’s hard-earned 87-78 victory over the Ryukyu Golden Kings on Sunday at Sendai Aoba Gym.
“It’s always motivating when you have your family here watching you,” DeWitz told the crowd after the game. His comments, which were then translated into Japanese, drew a well-earned applause.
DeWitz, a former Oregon State University player, scored a season-high 31 points on Dec. 8. On Sunday, his two dunks, never-ending supply of energy and on-court smarts were enthusiastically acknowledged by the crowd of 2,194, including DeWitz’s parents, whose visit to Japan was by no means a surprise.
“He’s my roommate, so I knew they were here,” 89ers forward Bobby St. Preux said of DeWitz’s parents. “He’s been talking about it the whole week before they got here, so he was very excited to see his parents.
“The past eight to 10 games he’s been playing a lot more aggressive since the beginning of the season, so I know it helped.”
DeWitz had 16 points by halftime in Sunday’s contest, a game which the 89ers led 26-12 after one quarter, but struggled at times to maintain the same intensity and productivity in the final three periods.
But the 89ers have found a way to produce enough big plays at opportune times, plays that translate into victories.
This game was Sendai’s season-best sixth consecutive victory. The 89ers opened the weekend with a 101-95 win over Ryukyu.
“We were just focusing on boxing out and playing better transition defense, and I felt we did that,” said St. Preux, a key reserve who finished with eight points and four assists. “We had a few times where we had some mental letdowns, but overall . . . we played pretty good.”
Sendai (16-4) made 30 field goals, all but one of which had an assist attached to it. Ball movement is the trademark of the Eastern Conference’s first-place team.
The 89ers were 8 for 17 from 3-point range and 22 of 41 from inside the arc.
“Right now there are no selfish players (on this team),” said 89ers coach Honoo Hamaguchi, whose team finished 19-21 in 2006-07 and didn’t qualify for the four-team playoffs. “The ball moves well. But the biggest thing is we have a big center (Patrick Whearty) this year. We didn’t have a classic center the past two years, so that’s the big difference.”
Sendai’s Ryan Blackwell finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, while Kenichi Takahashi and Patrick Whearty scored 11 points apiece.
Former University of Michigan guard Herb Gibson scored 15 in 25 minutes on Sunday for the Golden Kings.
Gibson had eight points in the final quarter, helping Ryukyu turn a 72-58 deficit entering the quarter into a three-point game in the final minute. But he was 0-for-3 from the foul line.
Takahashi hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 80-74 on Sendai’s next possession, and the Golden Kings failed to score on their next trip down the floor.
Then Takahashi scored a layup, turning it into an eight-point game.
The teams took turns taking trips to the foul line down the stretch, and Ryukyu didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way.
“What hurt us today was the bad first quarter, which seems to be hurting us a lot during the course of the year, which is the sign of a young team in my eyes,” said Golden Kings coach Hernando Planells, whose team is 4-16 in its inaugural season.
“I’m very proud of the fact that we were able to fight back and keep pushing. That’s another thing about our team. We like to stay aggressive and don’t give up.”