In a game that went down to the wire, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, the Rizing Fukuoka’s new head coach, was able to instill confidence in his players on Saturday night.
He kept his message simple and direct.
“If you can believe, you can achieve,” Bryant told them.
That’s what they did, defeating the visiting Shimane Susanoo Magic 72-70 in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture.
The Rizing (7-20) were coming off a 101-62 loss to the Shiga Lakestars in their fourth and final game — all defeats — under interim coach Ken Hamanaka.
Veteran guard Rintaro Tokunaga sank a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds to break a tie and give Fukuoka its final points to decide the outcome.
Before Tokunaga went to the line, Bryant reminded him there “ain’t no pressure, just knock them down,” the coach revealed later.
So with a two-point lead Fukuoka held off Shimane (8-19) to open the weekend with a victory.
“We played great defense and got two stops,” Bryant told The Japan Times in a post-game phone interview. “It was a good job defensively.
“I’m just happy that the Japanese guys stepped up and played good basketball. We executed some good plays down the stretch.”
In his reclamation project in Kyushu, the 60-year-old Bryant, a former NBA player and Italian League star, said he was pleased to get a victory in his first game back in the bj-league since May 2009, when he guided the Tokyo Apache to their second straight championship runnerup finish.
But he said he’s focused on the big picture: improvement.
“We said a win is a win is a win and that’s all we want to try to do. They don’t have to be pretty,” said Bryant, who arrived in Japan last week and ran the team through practice only a handful of times in preparation for this series.
“What I try to teach them is that no matter how you play, there’s a moment in the game when you can win the match, and my Japanese guys made that (tonight) with big shots.”
Veteran forward Josh Peppers had 15 points for the Rizing and frontcourt mate Cyrus Tate poured in 13 and grabbed nine rebounds. Tokunaga added 12 points and four assists. Greg Logins and Yoshimasa Ohara supplied 11 and nine points, respectively.
The Rizing made 25 of 44 shots from 2-point range (56.8 percent). They had 13 assists and 13 turnovers.
Fukuoka guard Cohey Aoki, named an All-Star starter for the ninth time earlier this month, sat out the game with a strained calf muscle.
Shimane’s Tatsuhiro Yokoo led the club with 16 points and Isiah Brown had 14. Fukuoka held Magic guard Joe Chapman to 11 points and 1-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
Fukuoka took a 20-10 lead into the second quarter and held a 40-34 advantage at halftime.
Though he was in foul trouble early in the game, Peppers sparked the Rizing in the second half.
Or as Bryant put it: “Down the stretch he made some big baskets, and that’s what superstars do.”
Bryant also pointed to a clutch fadeaway jumper that Ohara nailed as a memorable, key basket in crunch time.
After the game, Peppers told The Japan Times, “Coach Jellybean is not a new face to the league and knows the game very well. He knows what it takes to win , and has a great feel for the things in the bj-league. He has created a great atmosphere for the team, forcing us to have the confidence to play at a high level, only focusing on the things that matter most.
“His knowledge and schemes in tight situations are what this team needed most. I’m excited to see what the second half of this season turns out to be with Jelly as our coach.”
Grouses 91, Cinq Reves 54
In Kamiichi, Toyama Prefecture, Masashi Joho lit up the scoreboard for 32 points and drained a jaw-dropping 10 of 14 3-pointers as the Grouses hammered Tokyo.
Toyama (20-7) won its sixth straight game.
The Cinq Reves (4-25), meanwhile, lost their 14th consecutive contest.
Jamelle Horne had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Grouses and Sam Willard finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Takeshi Mito poured in 10 points and Joe Werner added eight points and 13 boards.
Yuji Ide was the Cinq Reves’ high scorer with 15 points. Jemal Farmer and Will Foster scored 14 and 12 points, respectively. Foster raked in 13 boards to complete the double-double.
Brave Warriors 76, B-Corsairs 73
In Nagano, Patrick Sanders’ 34 points sparked Shinshu to a narrow victory over Yokohama.
Sanders canned 7 of 9 3s in an electrifying performance for the hosts.
Former University of Louisville center Terrance Jennings had 11 points and nine rebounds with three steals and a block in his third game for the Brave Warriors (12-15).
Shinshu’s Mohamed Abukar added eight points and Takato Saito (seven points, five assists) and Shoji Nakanishi and DeVaugh Washington (seven points apiece) all made an impact for coach Ryuji Kawai’s club.
For Yokohama (5-22), post player Carl Hall made his debut with the team and led the B-Corsairs with 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds in just under 25:30 of court time, which came against his former club.
The B-Corsairs’ Kenji Yamada and Yosuke Saito also scored in double figures, 12 and 10 points, respectively. Big man Dzaflo Larkai added eight points and 11 boards and center Wayne Marshall had nine points in his first game since Nov. 9. He was out with a knee injury.
Former playoff MVP Masayuki Kabaya supplied nine points for Yokohama.
Albirex BB 93, Broncos 81
In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, Russell Carter had 22 points and Kimitake Sato scored 20 as Niigata rolled past the Broncos.
Sato sank 6 of 8 3s for the Albirex (17-10). Patrick Sullivan scored 16 points and Thomas Kennedy finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Ari Stewart led Saitama (1-26) with 20 points and Nyika Williams had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Phoenix 75, Lakestars 66
In Toyokawa, Aichi Prefecture, Mo Charlo’s 20-point, 11-rebound performance ignited Western Conference-leading Hamamatsu to a victory, its 15th straight, over Shiga.
Masahiro Oguchi poured in 11 points and Olu Ashaolu and Nile Murry both scored 10 for the Phoenix (24-3).
Hamamatsu converted 17 of 20 free throws.
Ray Nixon paced the Lakestars (17-8) with 18 points and hauled in eight rebounds. Jeff Parmer scored 12 points and Terrance Woodbury and Chris Holm had 11 points apiece, the latter also grabbed 11 boards.
Hannaryz 88, Five Arrows 71
In Kyoto, the Hannaryz held struggling Takamatsu to less than 20 points in all four quarters and picked up a victory in the series opener.
Ryan Forehan-Kelly had 21 points for Kyoto (22-5), Takuya Komoda scored 15 and Reggie Warren and Kevin Kotzur 13 apiece.
Kotzur collected a team-high five steals and Warren made four.
Dexter Lyons scored 24 points and Justin Watts finished with 19 for the Five Arrows (7-20), who have lost 13 games in a row.
Takamatsu had 21 turnovers.
Evessa 78, HeatDevils 73
In Kitsuki, Oita Prefecture, Shota Konno and Josh Dcllard had 25 points apiece as Osaka edged the HeatDevils.
Konno knocked down 6 of 7 3s, and his team went 11-for-22 from beyond the arc.
Takuya Soma added 10 points and Seth Tarver nine for the Evessa (16-11).
Dollard and Gary Hamilton shared the team lead in rebounds (11).
Like Konno, Oita’s Taishiro Shimizu had the hot hand from beyond the arc, sinking all five of his 3-point shots in a 19-point effort. Teammate Todd O’Brien also had a 19-point night.
Kazuya “J.” Hatano contributed 13 points for the HeatDevils (9-18).
89ers 97, Northern Happinets 95
In Sendai, the 89ers eked out a victory over Tohoku rival Akita and ended the Northern Happinets’ 12-game win streak.
Wendell White paced Sendai (18-9) with 23 points. Jeral Davis poured in 16 points with eight rebounds and two blocks and Kejuan Johnson scored 15 points and dished out five assists.
The 89ers repeatedly went to the free-throw line (25-for-27).
Ruben Boykin had 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for East-leading Akita (24-5) and Richard Roby scored 20 points. Akitomo Takeno poured in 15 points and Deshawn Stephens had 12 points and 10 boards.
Golden Kings 87, Bambitious 62
In Okinawa City, six Ryukyu players had double-digit scoring efforts as the reigning champs pounded Nara.
Anthony Kent, a Ball State alum, paced the Golden Kings (23-4) with 15 points and led the team with nine rebounds. Narito Namizato and Kibwe Trim both scored 12 points, Draelon Burns had 11 and Shigeyuki Kinjo and Ryuichi Kishimoto rang up 10 apiece.
The Kings out-rebounded the visitors 53-39.
Andre Murray was the top scorer for Nara (9-18), finishing with 19 points. Chehales Tapscott added a double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds).
Wat’s 76, Crane Thunders 72 (OT)
In Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Damian Saunders scored 17 points, Gyno Pomare had 16 point and 15 rebounds and the Wat’s outlasted Gunma in overtime.
Paul Williams added 15 points and 10 boards for Aomori (15-12) and Kenichi Takahashi had 11 points and five assists, while Yuki Kitamuki contributed nine points. Saunders led the hosts with three steals.
Carlos Dixon paced the Crane Thunders (8-17) with 22 points but was 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Marcus Morrison had 19 points and Daniel Northern Jr. chipped in with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Big Bulls 84, Firebonds 76
In Inawashiro, Fukushima Prefecture, balanced scoring carried Iwate to a bounce-back victory over the hosts in the series finale.
Scootie Randall finished with 15 points for the Big Bulls (23-5) and Lawrence Blackledge and Abdullahi Kuso both had 14. Wayne Arnold added 13 points. Masato Tsukino poured in eight points and Jun Nakanishi and Shota Onodera both had seven.
Tsubasa Yonamine and Nakanishi each had five assists for Iwate. Blackledge led the squad with 11 rebounds.
Indiana University product Verdell Jones III had a game-high 25 points for Fukushima (23-5), which trailed 44-30 at halftime.
Terrance Shannon added 14 points and 18 rebounds for the Firebonds. Teammate Shinya Murakami also scored 14 points, and Masaya Karimata supplied 10.
The Firebonds turned the ball over 19 times.