Fourth quarters are a test of will and skill in professional basketball, and it often comes down to a handful of plays to determine a winner.

The Tokyo Apache, a slow starter, emerged as the stronger finisher in a sloppy but effective 81-72 triumph over the Akita Northern Happinets on Tuesday night in the bj-league.

Akita, which shot 20 percent (4-for-20) in the fourth quarter, simply ran out of time to regain momentum or string together enough big plays to pull off a road win.

The Apache used a late 12-4 stretch to wrestle control of the game — 77-69 by that point — and improve to 15-10, 3-0 against the Northern Happinets. Tokyo outscored Akita 31-15 in the fourth quarter.

“We were awful in the first (half) but pretty good in the second. My son coached the first half and I coached the second,” Apache head coach Bob Hill said with a grin, giving a nod of recognition to his son, assistant coach Casey.

Akita fell to 10-21.

Byron Eaton paced the Apache with a game-high 27 points and big man Robert Swift had 16 and 14 rebounds. Teenage forward Jeremy Tyler added 12 points, 10 boards, four blocks and two steals in 17-plus minutes off the bench. Jumpei Nakama scored 10 points but struggled en route to 4-for-13 shooting.

“I thought Jeremy Tyler gave us a huge lift tonight,” Hill said.

For the Happinets, Paul Butorac finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, Sek Henry scored 15 and Makoto Hasegawa had 14. Akita was 11-for-22 at the charity stripe.

Tokyo committed just one second-half turnovers.

Happinets coach Bob Pierce admitted his team’s free-throw shooting woes and Tokyo’s talented squad were tough factors to overcome. He stressed to his players the need to play 40 minutes.

“It’s a shame we didn’t win this game,” Pierce added, underlining the point that Tyler was a super difficult matchup and his speed caused problems for Akita defenders.

The fourth quarter, from the opening second, was comeback time for the re-energized hosts. Tyler scored inside after collecting an offensive rebound and Eaton was credited with a layup after Henry was charged with defensive goaltending. Then, seconds later, Tyler sank a short jumper from the right wing to cut it to 58-56.

Eaton gave Tokyo its first share of the lead since the first quarter on a pair of free throws with 8:12 to play, making it 58-58. Hasegawa answered with a 3 for Akita and Mike Chappell dropped a 3 through the net at the other end to knot it at 61-61 to fire up the crowd.

After a Henry basket put Akita back ahead by one, Tyler followed suit for Tokyo with a basket but missed the free throw and a chance for an old-fashioned 3-point play. Still, his strong baseline move put the Apache ahead 65-64.

Butorac evened the score on a free throw with 5:33 to play. Then, in his patent comfort zone, Cohey Aoki buried a 3-pointer to give Tokyo a 68-65 lead.

Nakama’s rainbow-arc 3 made it 71-65 with around 4:30 left as Tokyo’s hustle and effort began to pay dividends.

It was a four-point game with 2 minutes remaining, and Eaton’s inside basket made it 73-67, triggering a timeout by Pierce at the 1:48 mark.

Facing a 15-point deficit entering the third quarter, a familiar situation for the Apache in a few recent games, Hill’s club woke up in the pivotal period.

The Apache cut it to 49-40 on a Nakama 3-pointer late in the period, but Dokun Akingbade’s authoritative jam and a Henry floater pushed the visitors’ lead to 13 points, then Nakama and Tyler notched consecutive baskets for the hosts to reduce it to nine. But Butorac, an inside menace all evening, quickly brought the margin back to double digits. Tyler’s putback slam made it an eight-point game and after an Akingbade jumper, Eaton’s 3-pointer pulled Tokyo to within 57-50 in the closing seconds of the third quarter.

In the opening quarter, Swift scored on a nifty left-hand hook on the first possession of the game, and Ryosuke Mizumachi evened it up on the other end on an inside bucket. Tokyo, looking tentative and a step too aggressive, committed turnovers on its next three possessions, prompting Hill to call a 20-second timeout at the 8:38 mark.

In an early display of frontcourt fundamentals, three strong moves inside by Butorac produced three high-percentage scoring changes early, and he made all three of them, helping the Happinets take a 10-4 advantage.

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