The bj-league’s promotional campaign for the upcoming playoffs includes a slick slogan — “nobody knows what will happen” — and that surely applies to the Niigata Albirex BB as well.
Sunday’s series finale against the host Toyama Grouses was a bold reminder of that.
The Albirex defeated the Grouses 89-81 in double overtime to complete the weekend sweep.
Niigata overcame a 15-point deficit in the final 7:58 of the fourth quarter to force overtime. Coach Masaya Hirose’s helter-skelter squad trailed 60-45, but went on a 19-4 run to close out the fourth quarter.
Nigerian native Uche Echefu’s 3-pointer with 1 second left on the clock tied it at 64-64 and sent the game into overtime.
In the first overtime, Calvin Chitwood, known primarily for his tenacious defense, scored the Albirex’s second jaw-dropping basket of the game, a shot with 29 seconds to play that tied it at 72-72 and forced a second overtime.
From that point on, Niigata dominated.
The Albirex (24-26) used a 15-0 spurt to open the second OT and lock up the hard-earned victory.
Echefu, a power forward out of Florida State, paced Niigata with a season-high 32 points (his previous high was 20) and nine rebounds. Yuichi Ikeda had 13 points, Paul Butorac added 12 points and eight boards and Antonio Burks scored 11, while Tyrone Levett’s muscle-and-hustle effort (nine points, 18 rebounds) helped secure the win. Chitwood contributed seven points and six boards and Takato Sato scored zero points, but chipped in with seven rebounds and five assists.
Brian Harper finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds for Toyama (16-34), which is now tied with the Saitama Broncos for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Johan Collins had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in defeat, while Bilal Abdullah scored 12 and Brandon Thomas had 10.
Also Sunday, Mike Bell scored 29 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the Oita HeatDevils’ 80-68 home win over the Shiga Lakestars.
Ricky Woods added 18 points, Matt Lottich scored 13 and handed out five assists and Hiroki Sato scored eight for the HeatDevils (25-25), who earned a series split.
The Lakestars, guided capably by second-year coach Bob Pierce, ended the regular season portion of their schedule with a 29-23 record and a first-ever playoff berth. Shiga was 19-33 as an expansion team in 2008-09.
The Lakestars’ Mikey Marshall scored a team-best 19 points and collected 10 rebounds. Takamichi Fujiwara added 15 points, Ray Schafer scored 13 and Gary Hamilton chalked up his 30th double-double of the season (10 points, 15 boards).
Hamilton ended the season as Shiga’s leader in assists, steals, blocks and rebounds. He’s also the league’s top rebounder (14.3 per game).
Elsewhere, the Sendai 89ers beat the visiting Tokyo Apache 81-77.
Josh Peppers led the 89ers with 29 points, frontcourt mate Chris Holm had a 24-point, 22-rebound, five-assist performance and Gyno Pomare poured in 11 points, Hikaru Kusaka added nine points for Sendai (35-15), the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed for the playoffs.
The 89ers outscored the Apache 27-15 in the decisive fourth quarter.
For Tokyo (21-29), Julius Ashby scored 20 points and pulled down 11 rebounds and Michael Chappell added 14 points and nine boards. Cohey Aoki added 13 points, while Rasheed Sparks chipped in with nine points, seven rebound and seven assists.
Jumpei Nakama, Takanori Goya and Jerrell Smith each scored seven points for the Apache.
Golden Week basketball continues on Monday as the Kyoto Hannaryz play host to the Osaka Evessa in the series opener.