The Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix won the battle of the boards and maintained their poise despite a late surge by the Saitama Broncos on Monday afternoon, earning an 89-76 victory in an early season clash of Eastern Conference heavyweights.

The host Broncos (5-1) trailed 64-51 entering the fourth quarter and 69-53 with 8:19 to play.

But it had become evident in the bj-league’s first month that second-year coach David Benoit’s club is better equipped to respond to any challenge this season.

Guard Yuki Kitamuki, the Saitama hero against the Niigata Albirex BB in the previous weekend’s games, played the starring role — again — in the fourth quarter. He scored 14 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, during the Broncos’ 16-4 run as the hosts cut the lead to 73-69 with 4:17 left.

Phoenix point guard Michael Gardener answered with a momentum-changing 3-pointer to give his club a seven-point cushion with 3:54 remaining. Hamamatsu (4-2) wrapped up the victory and a weekend split thanks to a game-ending 8-0 spurt.

Phoenix forward Josh Peppers was No. 1 in the scoring department (25 points). Gardener contributed 16 points, seven rebounds and shared the team’s top assist output with fellow guard Masahiro Oguchi (six apiece).

Chinese center Sun Ming Ming had his second double-double of the season, finishing with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting and 11 rebounds, while Hamamatsu teammate Adam Zahn added 13 points and seven boards and Kim Jung Yoon put nine points on the board.

What’s more, coach Kazuo Nakamura’s club had six players with five or more rebounds. Sun’s immense size (236 cm and 160 kg) freed up valuable real estate under the basket for his teammates to pull down rebound after rebound.

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