Crane Thunders fall to Grouses in bj-league debut


Staff Writer

The Gunma Crane Thunders recorded a loss in the first regular-season game in franchise history on Sunday, but coach Tadashi Hayashi’s club proved to be a worthy challenger against the Toyama Grouses in the teams’ bj-league season opener.

Toyama topped visiting Gunma 96-90.

The Crane Thunders trailed 53-42 at halftime, but outscored the Grouses 29-17 in the third quarter to take a one-point lead into the final period.

After the game, Crane Thunders forward Lewis Witcher tweeted, “Man, tough lost for us today. Sucks we couldn’t get that first win, but we just gotta play smarter and come ready to play tomorrow.”

(Complete game stats were unavailable at press time. The league-issued official boxscore still wasn’t issued to media not at the arena 3 1/2 hours after the game ended.)

Big Bulls 94, Albirex BB 85

In Niigata, Kenichi Takahashi scored 20 points for the second time in as many days, Lawrence Blackledge had 15 points and 10 blocked shots and Masato Tsukino added 15 points as Iwate completed a series sweep over the hosts.

Carlos Dixon chipped in with 13 points for the Big Bulls and Dillion Sneed had a 12-point effort for new coach Dai Oketani’s club. Reggie Okosa scored nine points and Makoto Sawaguchi had seven.

Takahashi, who had played for the Sendai 89ers since 2006 before joining Iwate in the offseason, was 6-for-6 from the field and 7-for-8 at the free-throw line. Tsukino added five assists and five steals.

For the Albirex, Nile Murry had a team-high 21 points, Rodney Webb scored 14, Chris Holm and forward Marquise Gray, a Michigan State product, each scored 13 points. Yuichi Ikeda finished with 12 points.

Niigata out-rebounded Iwate 47-31, with Holm, the league’s reigning rebounding king, leading the way with 12 boards.

After the game, one basketball fan posted this message on Oketani’s Facebook page: “Congrats on the road sweep, coach. … You got that ‘magic’ touch.”

Oketani called it a “team effort,” saying he was happy with their performance.

Phoenix 86, 89ers 81 (OT)

In Hamamatsu, Japan national team center Atsuya Ota had one of the best games of his pro career, finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and one steals in an overtime victory over Sendai.

The Phoenix bounced back from a loss on Saturday, while Ota was 11-for-14 at the foul line, taking more free throws than any other player. Kevin Galloway added 16 points, 14 boards and eight assists, Jeffrey Parmer scored 14 points, Elbert Fuqua had 12 and Shinnosuke Oishi and Shoji Nakanishi scored nine apiece.

The 89ers made, in the words of coach Bob Pierce, “a furious comeback” scoring 32 fourth-quarter points and leading 76-74 with 4 seconds to play. But Hamamatsu forced overtime with a clutch, game-tying basket.

Sendai was behind 69-54 with around 5 minutes to play before beginning its big comeback and pulling ahead 74-73 with 1:13 left.

Yasuaki Arai scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter and Kevin Coble had 13 of his 22 in the period.

“(They) made some big shots as we fought to take the lead,” Pierce said.

Sam Willard had 16 points and 11 boards for the 89ers.

The Phoenix shot 2-for-18 from 3-point range; the 89ers made 11 of 23 attempts from beyond the arc.

Hamamatsu controlled the boards in overtime, Pierce said, pointing out one of his team’s shortcomings in the loss.

Golden Kings 82, Hannaryz 74

In Kyoto, do-it-all forward Anthony McHenry had four dunks, a game-best 29 points and 16 rebounds to lead Ryukyu to a series sweep over the hosts.

McHenry logged 71 minutes in the two-game series, and wrote on Facebook: “Much-needed two days’ rest. Good thing we got two Ws to take us into the bye week.”

Jeff Newton added 16 points and eight rebounds for the Golden Kings, who played their first regular-season series under new coach Koto Toyama. All-Star guard Narito Namizato supplied 12 points and five assists for the defending bj-league champions, while newcomer Terrance Woodbury, a swingman who played college ball at the University of Georgia, scored nine points off the bench.

Marcus Cousin, a former Utah Jazz center, had 18 points and 13 rebounds for the Hannaryz in nearly 29 minutes of court time. Yu Okada drained 4 of 8 3s en route to 15 points and David Palmer scored 14 points against his former team. Gyno Pomare contributed seven points and nine rebounds and Kyosuke Setoyama added four assists and a pair of steals.

Ryukyu held Kyoto to eight fourth-quarter points while scoring 19.

In Saturday’s Kyoto-Ryukyu contest played on a wood court, here are some noteworthy numbers (the box score was unavailable at press time): Naoto Kosuge sank 5 of 10 3s and finished with 18 points. Woodbury had a 28-point performance in his Golden Kings debut. Namizato dished out a game-best nine assists. Newton had three steals and three blocked shots. Meanwhile for Kyoto, Cousins posted a double-double (14 points, 12 boards) in his first game in the bj-league.

In addition, three of Cousins’ Hannaryz teammates also scored 14 points — Palmer, Pomare (who hauled in 15 rebounds) and ex-Link Tochigi Brex player Masaharu Kataoka.

Expect big contributions from … Woodbury. He averaged 10.9 points in 50 games for the NBA Development League’s Austin Toros last season.