The victories keep coming for the Akita Northern Happinets under first-year head coach Makoto Hasegawa, a former star point guard.
Since replacing the now-retired Kazuo Nakamura after the team’s bj-league championship runnerup finish in May, the expectations have been for the team to be a title contender once again. And the Happinets are right where they want to be — tied with the Iwate Big Bulls for the top spot in the Eastern Conference (21-4).
In Saturday’s 75-66 triumph over the visiting Aomori Wat’s, Deshawn Stephens scored a team-high 20 points, including 12 of 13 at the free-throw line, and grabbed nine rebounds.
Akita’s Richard Roby finished with 19 points and Shigehiro Taguchi added 16 points and four steals, while Akitomo Takeno poured in 11 points.
Gyno Pomare paced Aomori (14-11) with 25 points and 21 rebounds. Yuki Kitamuki had a 13-point performance. Paul Williams also scored 13 points along with 10 rebounds, five assists and eight turnovers.
Big Bulls 73, Hannaryz 65
In Ichinoseki, Iwate Prefecture, Lawrence Blackledge’s 17-point, 10-rebound, four-block performance and tenacious defense guided the Big Bulls past Kyoto in a matchup of powerhouse teams.
Masato Tsukino scored 12 points and made three steals, while Jun Nakanishi and Scootie Randall each had 10 points for Iwate (21-4 overall, 10-1 home). Abdullahi Kuso and Wayne Arnold contributed nine points apiece.
The Big Bulls, who snapped a three-game slide, led 36-31 at halftime.
Reggie Warren had 15 points, eight rebounds and an uncharacteristic nine turnovers for Kyoto (21-4). David Palmer and Ryan Forehan-Kelly had 15 and 12 points, respectively, while Shun Watanuki finished with nine points.
In a tight contest, Iwate made twice as many 3-pointers (eight) as Kyoto.
After the game, Big Bulls coach Dai Oketani commented on going head-to-head against Hannaryz coach Honoo Hamaguchi. Both longtime mentors worked under former Arizona State men’s basketball coach Rob Evans before the bj-league’s inception and credit him for helping shape their basketball philosophy.
“This is the first time to play against Coach Honoo since we met in the (Final Four) two years ago,” Oketani told The Japan Times.
He added: “Both teams got momentum by defense, so it was a kind of mental game.
“You know Coach Evans teaches everything from defense.”
Grouses 84, Evessa 68
In Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, Toyama’s Masashi Joho canned 5 of 7 3-pointers and scored a game-high 26 points against his former team.
Joho helped the Evessa win two of their three straight championships in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
Since his return to the Grouses lineup last week after a knee injury sidelined him for seven games, Toyama has won all three games, and, by doing so, extended its overall winning streak to four.
Joe Werner had 17 points and Sam Willard added 13 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for Toyama (18-7 overall, 10-5 road). Tatsunori Fujie chipped in with 10 points and six assists.
The Grouses out-rebounded the hosts 53-39. And their offense clicked throughout the game.
Exhibit A: They had 25 assists on 31 baskets.
Big man Jon Kreft paced Osaka (15-10) with 21 points. Shota Konno and Seth Tarver scored 14 and 12 points, respectively. Josh Dollard grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds.
Albirex BB 80, Brave Warriors 77
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, the hosts rang up 28 points in the third quarter and held on for the victory despite a strong comeback by Shinshu in the final stanza.
The Brave Warriors (9-12) trailed 70-53 entering the fourth period, but outscored Niigata 24-10 down the stretch.
Thomas Kennedy had 15 points for the Albirex (15-10), Russell Carter and Patrick Sullivan both scored 11 and Hirotaka Kondo added 10. Sullivan handed out a team-high five assists.
Mohamed Abukar led Shinshu with 27 points, including four 3s. Shoji Nakanishi scored 13 points and Carl Hall had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Takato Saito dished out eight assists.
Crane Thunders 87, Rizing 79 (OT)
In Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, Carlos Dixon’s 28-point effort carried the Crane Thunders to an overtime triumph over Fukuoka, which lost Ken Hamanaka’s first game as bench boss.
The teams missed a combined 25 free throws, helping to prolong the contest.
Marcus Morrison poured in 17 points for Gunma (7-16) and Yosuke Sugawara had 11. Former NBA big man Melvin Ely added seven points and seven rebounds.
Josh Peppers paced the Rizing (6-17) with 21 points, while Rintaro Tokunaga pumped in 14 points and Cyrus Tate had 13 points and nine boards.
Fukuoka fired head coach James Duncan on Monday and promoted Hamanaka, who was the Canadian mentor’s assistant.
Golden Kings 95, Broncos 61
In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, defending champion Ryukyu cruised to a victory over the struggling Broncos, who turned the ball over 21 times.
Draelon Burns scored a team-high 20 points in just under 24 minutes for the Golden Kings (19-4) and Ryuichi Kishimoto had 17 points on 6-for-6 shooting from the floor, with five 3s on the night and six assists.
Shigeyuki Kinjo added 12 points for Ryukyu and Anthony McHenry and Kibwe Trim scored 10 points apiece.
Ari Stewart led Saitama (0-21) with 18 points.
HeatDevils 76, B-Corsairs 74
In Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Kellen Thornton’s 22-point, 16-rebound effort and Naoto Takushi’s 11-point, 12-assist outing guided Oita past Yokohama.
Todd O’Brien and Hiroki Ushiro each scored 15 points for the HeatDevils (8-15), who won their second straight game after a seven-game slide.
Warren Niles had 24 points, 12 rebounds and five assists for the B-Corsairs (4-21), who have dropped their past 12 games. Khyle Marshall scored 21 points and Dzaflo Larkai added 11 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.
Yosuke Saito doled out seven assists for Yokohama.
Phoenix 84, 89ers 77
In Hamamatsu, the hosts’ aggressive mind-set led to them taking 37 foul shots, more than double Sendai’s output.
Olu Ashaolu paced Hamamatsu (20-3) with 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds. Nile Murry scored 19 points, Mo Charlo had 17 points and 13 rebounds and Shinnosuke Oishi contributed 10 points.
The Western Conference-leading Phoenix, winners of 11 straight games, held a 54-42 rebounding advantage.
For the 89ers (17-8), Kejuan Johnson was the higher scorer with 23 points and Wendell White had 22. Jeral Davis added 11 points, nine rebounds and three blocks off the bench and Adrian Moss had 10 points.
Lakestars 82, Firebonds 81
In Kusatsu, Shiga Prefecture, the Lakestars shot 60.4 percent from 2-point range and held Fukushima to 44.4 percent in a narrow victory.
Terrance Woodbury scored 18 points for Shiga (13-6) and Yu Okada chipped in with 16 points, five assists and three steals. Ray Nixon and Jeff Parmer added 15 and 12 points, respectively.
Fukushima floor leader Verdell Jones III had a team-high 26 points with nine assists.
Firebonds frontcourt standout Terrance Shannon had 22 points and 20 rebounds with three steals and two blocks. Masaya Karimata and Shinya Murakami scored 11 points apiece.
Bambitious 95, Cinq Reves 82
In Nara, Chehales Tapscott scored 28 points to lead a balanced attack as the hosts handed Tokyo its 12th straight defeat.
Big man Jared Carter had 16 points, including three dunks, with 11 rebounds for the Bambitous (8-13). Taishi Kasahara scored 15 points, Andre Murray had 14 and Tatsuya Suzuki nearly notched a triple-double (10 points, nine rebounds and 12 assists).
Jemal Farmer scored 30 points for the Cinq Reves (4-21).
Susanoo Magic 72, Five Arrows 68
In Takamatsu, Edward Yamamoto sealed the victory for Shimane at the charity stripe, converting all 12 of his attempts.
The Five Arrows (7-18) lost their 11th straight game.
Yamamoto had a game-high 23 points and six assists. Teammate Bingo Morriex contributed 19 points and 19 rebounds and Tatsuhiro Yokoo had a 10-point effort, while Joe Chapman put eight points on the board for Shimane (7-018).
B.J. Puckett paced Takamatsu with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Justin Watts scored 13 points and Andrais Thornton and Koki Yabuuchi both had 10.