The bj-league’s eighth season tipped off on Saturday with three games, and the defending champion Ryukyu Golden Kings defeated the host Kyoto Hannaryz 82-73 in Koto Toyama’s first game at the helm.
Toyama coached the Miyazaki Shining Suns during the past two seasons before being named the third head coach in Ryukyu history.
(Official game statistics were unavailable at press time, eight hours after the 3 p.m. tipoff.)
Big Bulls 88, Albirex BB 82
In Niigata, Dai Oketani, who guided Ryukyu to a pair of championships, earned a victory in his first game on the bench for the Tohoku franchise, now in its second season.
Former Ryukyu center Dillion Sneed had 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds for Iwate.
After the game, Sneed summed up the season-opening win this way on Facebook: “Positive start to the season right there.”
Longtime Sendai 89ers guard Kenichi Takahashi scored 20 points, including 10-for-12 at the free-throw line, for Iwate, while fellow newcomer Reggie Okosa had 14 points. Marquette University product Lawrence Blackledge scored 12, grabbed nine boards and blocked six shots. Masato Tsukino sank three 3-pointers and contributed 11 points in the victory.
For Niigata, forward Rodney Webb had 21 points and 11 rebounds, Nile Murry scored 17 and Chris Holm grabbed 12 rebounds.
An announced crowd of 3,189 attended the game.
89ers 63, Phoenix 61
In Hamamatsu, Sendai edged the hosts in a defensive struggle that went down the wire.
The teams shot a combined 46-for-148 from the field.
It was Hamamatsu Higashimikawa’s first game as a member of the Western Conference after a distinguished four-season stint in the Eastern Conference, which included two championships and a championship runnerup finish last season.
“We’re just happy to open the season with a win on the road against a great team like Hamamatsu,” Sendai coach Bob Pierce told The Japan Times. “We came out running — 22 points in the first quarter — but then Hamamatsu’s defense toughened up.”
In the fourth quarter, Sendai trailed 52-45, but rallied back to take a six-point edge, 63-57, with 2 minutes remaining.
“That 18-5 run was what saved us despite some overall sloppy play throughout,” Pierce said.
89ers newcomer Sam Willard, a University of the Pacific product, had 15 rebounds in his bj-league debut. He scored six of his seven points in the fourth quarter. Pierce called his fourth-quarter offensive output “six hard-earned points … (that) were part of our run to re-take the lead for good.”
Kevin Coble, who played college ball at Northwestern University, scored a team-best 17 points for Sendai, and DePaul product Karron Clarke “did a little bit of everything,” the Sendai coach said, noting his strong defense and nine rebounds.
Sendai captain and fan favorite Takehiko Shimura poured in 16 points, handed out four assists and made three steals. Guard Yasuaki Arai, a former Saitama Bronco, had six points and four assists in his first game for the 89ers.
For the Phoenix, Kevin Galloway (Texas Southern) had 20 points, 17 rebounds and four assists and one-time MVP Jeffrey Parmer (Florida Atlantic) scored 18 points and raked in 12 rebounds, while 211-cm Elbert Fuqua (Texas-San Antonio) had nine points and 11 boards.