Grouses escape Yokohama with slim victory


Staff Writer

The Justin Burrell Show didn’t have a happy ending for the Yokohama B-Corsairs on Wednesday afternoon.

Despite the rookie forward’s career- and franchise-best 40-point performance, the Toyama Grouses emerged victorious, 80-79, after Larry Turner’s free throw with no time remaining gave the visitors the win.

Toyama held the B-Corsairs (9-12) to 33 second-half points after yielding 28 in the opening quarter at Yokohama International Swimming Pool in the first regular-season meeting between the bj-league clubs. And veteran guard Masashi Joho, a key player on Osaka Evessa, Tokyo Apache and Shiga Lakestars playoff teams in years past, served notice that he’s still one of the league’s best game-changing forces, scoring 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter.

“Obviously, you never want a game decided by the referee’s call, but we are smart enough to realize that the game didn’t come down to that play,” B-Corsairs coach Reggie Geary told reporters moments later.

At the end of a high-energy game, Toyama got the ball back with 20.3 seconds remaining. Pape Mour Faye was whistled for a foul on Turner, who had the ball for a final shot, as time expired. The B-Corsairs looked stunned by the call; the Grouses were excited and then jumping for joy after Turner sank his game-winning shot.

The B-Corsairs, who shot 1-for-10 from 3-point range, had six fourth-quarter turnovers and 20 overall, a statistic that was a key factor in ending the team’s two-game winning streak.

Burrell, who was 14-for-16 at the foul line, and had 10 rebounds and eight turnovers, admitted as much after the game.

“As a person that’s supposed to finish games and be one of the leaders on our team, unfortunately I turned the ball over way too much,” said Burrell. “I made a lot of unforced turnovers. . . . I made a lot of passes that if I would’ve just made one pass and the team made another pass, it would’ve been a simpler play.”

Burrell leads the B-Corsairs in scoring (19.0 points per game) and his performance against Toyama (9-10) was a reminder that the first-year franchise expects big things from the 207-cm performer.

“Obviously, one of the disappointing things is we wasted his 40-point effort today,” Geary said. “There’s no question and there’s no secret on our team that JB and some others are the focal point of the offense. We know how capable he is, and we are very happy with how he is maturing and developing. We just feel with this additional responsibility, as you can see by this press conference today, he is taking it upon himself to take care of the basketball and things of that nature. We are very happy with how he’s progressing along.”

Grouses coach Kazuaki Shimoji, whose team has climbed into fifth place in the 10-team Eastern Conference, said strong third-quarter defense “fueled the team’s offense.”

At halftime, Shimoji said, the Toyama players were reminded they needed to “play more physical” in the second half. He also pointed to his team’s improved defense in the second half, which led to 11 Yokohama turnovers.

The Grouses faced a 54-40 deficit after Burrell’s jam with just over 7 minutes left in the third quarter. But Toyama mounted a comeback to pull within 57-53 late in the quarter.

The visitors’ game-changing 13-3 run included a big catch-and-shoot 3-pointer by Joho, who was 0-for-7 from the field in the opening half, and a Devin Searcy layup on a give-and-go from Joho that prompted Geary to call a timeout. Then Searcy, who had 11 points and six rebounds, scored again inside to make it 57-53 less than a minute after the break in the action. Only a Faye free throw was added to the scoring total during the remainder of the quarter. That made it 58-53, Yokohama.

In an exciting, back-and-forth fourth quarter, Joho was the most effective player on the floor. He was 4-for-6 from the field and 5-for-5 at the foul line. Teammates got him the ball and he made his shots, weaving through traffic with bursts of speed and getting the ref’s attention along the way.

“We know he’s one of the better players in the league,” Geary said of Joho. “He’s dangerous because he’s dangerous from the 3-(point range), from mid-range (and) he can get all the way to the rim, and on top of that he’s very aggressive.

“When the team gets into the bonus very early in a quarter, now he’s even more dangerous because now he’s really in attack mode. Every time you foul him, he goes to the line. So he just ups his game and that’s a nod to him.”

The teams exchanged leads several times in the fourth quarter, with Burrell carrying the B-Corsairs and scoring 11 points in that span, including 7-for-8 at the line.

Toyama led 77-74 after Searcy’s basket with 1:48 to play. Burrell cut it to a single point by hitting two free throws, and former Tokyo guard Minoru Kimura put the hosts ahead 78-77 on a nifty reverse layup with 1:03 to play. Toyama’s Takeshi Mito, who had 17 points, sank two free throws as the Grouses retook the lead, 79-78, with 37 seconds remaining.

Burrell made the first of two shots with 21.4 seconds left. That made it 79-79. Then Toyama called a timeout to draw up its final possession. Joho inbounded the ball and the offense worked its plan slowly and methodically before the last-second foul was called.

Center Chas McFarland finished with 13 points for Yokohama. Ira Brown had 12 points and seven boards for the Grouses, who had five double-digit scorers.

“In the second half we got a little down,” Geary said. “Our energy level dropped for whatever reason and we started hanging our heads. But in terms of confidence, we were confident enough to get a nice lead in the first half.”

In the first quarter, Toyama led 4-2 after a Brian Harper (13 points) baseline jump shot. But Yokohama stormed back, using a 12-2 spurt to pull ahead 14-6.

The B-Corsairs played an excellent first quarter, getting good looks on offense and repeated trips to the free-throw line (10-for-12 overall). They also relentlessly pursued each rebound, setting the tone for the team’s performance in other facets of the game; by quarter’s end they held a 16-5 edge in rebounds, with Simmons (14 points and three steals before fouling out) collecting five rebounds to lead the effort.

In particular, Burrell, a first-year pro out of St. John’s University in New York City, picked his spots wisely and attacked the basket. He had 18 first-quarter points on 7-for-9 shooting, including vicious driving slam dunk (he finished with four dunks), layups and spot-up jumpers. He outscored the entire Grouses squad by one point in the period.

Defensively, Geary’s charges were aggressive and tenacious, and the Grouses trailed 28-17 entering the second quarter. Joho, Toyama’s leading scorer, was 0-for-5 from the field in the first stanza.

Yokohama led 46-32 at the break, getting 24 first-half points from Burrell to carry the offense.

Elsewhere Wednesday, the host Iwate Big Bulls defeated the Saitama Broncos 85-81.

Thomas Kennedy paced the expansion Big Bulls (7-16) with 28 points, Shawn Malloy had 23 points and 11 rebounds and ex-Saitama player Gordon Klaiber had 10 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. Yoshiaki Yamamoto added eight points and six assists.

The Broncos (6-15) dropped their sixth straight game and fell into last place.

Kenny Satterfield led Saitama with 24 points and John “Helicopter” Humphrey had 23.