The Toshiba Brave Thunders were the last men standing at the end of last season, but on Friday night, they had to settle for a loss to start the new year.

Their opponent, Link Tochigi Brex, exhibited a lot of heart against the reigning National Basketball League champions.

Link Tochigi guard Hironori Watanabe scored 23 points, including some big baskets in crunch time, and forward/center Ryan Rossiter followed with 22 points and 15 rebounds to lead the Brex to an 87-84 win at Todoroki Arena in the 2014-15 season-opening game.

“This is a good start for us,” Watanabe said after the game that saw more than 2,700 fans fill the majority of the gym. “It’s only one game, but it’s great.”

The Brex had momentum for much of the game, yet the Brave Thunders rallied to take the lead early in the final quarter. But the Utsunomiya-based club displayed resilience to take the game in the end.

“We have the ability to play resiliently,” Watanabe said. “We had some bad moments, but wound up overcoming it.”

Link Tochigi out-rebounded Toshiba 43-35, grabbing 13 offensive boards. Newly acquired import Kyle Barone and Tommy Brenton led a team that showed spirited play inside the paint. Barone, a 208-cm player, had 14 points and 14 rebounds, five of which were offensive boards.

“It was a good performance,” Brex head coach Thomas Wisman said. “But we just talked in there (in a meeting), it’s a long season, one ballgame. But it was a good first step, we made a statement we are a team that can play with anybody.”

Ace Yuta Tabuse racked up 10 points and four assists for the Brex, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last year.

“We played against a champion team,” Tabuse said. “And we came in the game as the challengers. We wanted to put up a battle today and were able to do so.”

For Toshiba, defending NBL scoring king Nick Fazekas was held to just 13 points. The American center grabbed 11 rebounds. The backcourt duo of Ryusei Shinoyama and Naoto Tsuji had 17 points apiece for the Brave Thunders, as did Cedric Bozeman.

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