Coaches don’t sleep particularly well after a fourth straight loss, but that was the situation the Tokyo Apache’s Bob Hill faced on Wednesday after his team’s two-point, double-overtime setback to the Akita Northern Happinets.
Coupled with the team’s fourth game in six days on Thursday, a sleepy-eyed Hill opted for some big changes in an attempt to end the recent slide. He moved teenage forward Jeremy Tyler and guard Justin Johnson, a newcomer, to the starting lineup, opting to use Mike Chappell and Cohey Aoki as backups.
The move paid off, with Tyler and fellow big man Robert Swift controlling play inside for long stretches of the game in Tokyo’s well-rounded 94-80 thrashing of the Happinets.
Exhibit A: Tyler had a pair of monster jams in the first 34 seconds of the fourth quarter, giving Akita coach Bob Pierce the urgency to call a timeout as his team trailed 72-56. Tyler finished with 24 points, nearly breaking his career high of 27, which was set in November.
The 167-cm Aoki, having a quiet game offensively, buried a 3 and made a driving shot in traffic on back-to-back trips down the floor to make it a 17-point lead.
Akita’s offensive rhythm was up-and-down, enabling Tokyo to keep a large lead for most of the quarter. Then Aoki knocked down a 3 with just under 5 minutes left to give the hosts an 81-66 lead. He had nine of his 12 points in the final period.
“If he’s open, he makes the shot,” Pierce said of Aoki. “He’s a winner. . . . He’s just mentally tough.”
Tokyo improved to 20-14. Akita dropped to 12-28 as Sek Henry finished with eight points on 3-for-13 shooting after a 42-point outburst in the series opener.
“Tonight we played with a lot of energy. I’m surprised we played with as much energy as we did,” a relieved Hill said during his post-game remarks near halfcourt.
Swift had 21 points and 16 rebounds, Chappell scored 12 and Johnson added 10. For Akita, Will Graves had a game-best 32 points, including 8-for-11 3s.
“I decided to really and truly change the lineup. . . . The lineup change was to give players rest,” Hill said, noting Tyler had fresh legs.
“The lineup changed worked, we took control of the game and it worked.”
Pierce said his team’s defensive matchups against Tyler were difficult and often inadequate and the Apache found ways to have Tyler dominate. The Happinets’ team play broke down in the rematch, he added, not pleased with too much one-on-one play.
“As soon as I saw the starting lineup, I knew we were in trouble,” Pierce said.
In the third quarter, Chappell’s steal, layup and free throw put Tokyo in front by a 52-44 score at the 5:34 mark. Swift made the first of two free throws seconds later to make it a 10-point game.
With 3:06 left in the quarter, Swift canned two free throws, giving the Apache the biggest lead for either team up to that point, 57-44.
Swift’s putback and subsequent foul shot increased the hosts’ lead to 63-49 with 1:29 to play in the third. The Apache’s strong quarter-closing play continued as Tyler scored on a strong move to the bucket and Aoki swished a 3-pointer to make it 68-55 in the final seconds of the 10-minute period.
Tyler had eight first-quarter points to give the Apache a big lift. He also had five rebounds before the break, but picked up his second foul at the 8:06 mark of the second quarter.
Swift’s basket-and-one gave the Apache a six-point lead with 4:17 left in the half. As part of a 10-0 run, Kensuke Tanaka and Swift hit successive shots to stretch the Tokyo advantage to 40-29 with 2:23 before intermission.
The Apache bench players were used early and often in this game; the same was true for Akita’s reserves.
Minoru Kimura, Johnson, Nakama and Tanaka all took turns guarding Henry a day after his sensational scoring performance. He was held to five first-quarter points on 1-for-5 shooting and five total points in the first half.
The Apache led 42-33 entering the third quarter.