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Takamatsu searching for solution as season slips away

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

There’s a fine line between average and bottom-of-the-pack status.

As of late, the Takamatsu Five Arrows (7-21 through Sunday) are dealing with the latter predicament.

The Shikoku Island-based team has dropped 14 straight games, falling into a last-place tie with the Rizing Fukuoka in the 10-team Western Conference.

Is it time for the Five Arrows to make a coaching change, firing fourth-year bench boss Kenzo Maeda?

Is it time to shake up their roster?

Is it time for the players to embrace a sense of urgency — that is, that their season is at the crossroads?

“In regards to our system, we haven’t changed anything from when we were winning games back in October,” Five Arrows post player B.J. Puckett told The Japan Times on Tuesday.

Takamatsu went 7-7 to open the season, but the team has been unable to maintain that pace. Injuries, inconsistent play and a tough schedule in the season’s first half have all been contributing factors.

Big man Andrais Thornton was sidelined with an injury for three straight games in December, and Puckett missed four in a row (Dec. 6, 7, 13 and 14, the last three overlapping with Thornton’s absence) due to a sprained knee ligament.

In the four games over the next two weekends, all against Shimane, “we were both visibly slowed,” admitted Puckett, “so one could certainly say injuries played a great hand in those eight losses.”

Of the Five Arrows’ foes during their lengthy losing streak, the Shiga Lakestars (18-8), Iwate Big Bulls (23-5), Niigata Albirex BB (18-10), Akita Northern Happinets (25-5) and Kyoto Hannaryz (23-5) are all among the league’s Final Four-caliber teams.

Takamatsu dropped a 30-point game to Akita on Dec. 14 and another 30-point decision against a much-improved Shimane Susanoo Magic squad seven days later.

Only three of those 14 defeats have been by single digits, twice by eight and a 77-76 setback to Shimane on Dec. 28.

And then Maeda’s team wasn’t scheduled to play again until Jan. 17.

The long layoff didn’t help.

The host Hannaryz blasted the Five Arrows by 88-71 and 79-64 score lines last weekend.

“We hadn’t played a game in three weeks and offensively we were just off,” said Puckett, looking back at the Kyoto-Takamatsu series. “We committed something like 45 turnovers (43 actually) in the two games combined, many of which led to very easy opportunities for them. Our effort was there, defensively we felt we played pretty good both games, but could not capitalize on the offensive end.

“Again, call it rust or whatever, but we just failed to put the ball in the hole.”

Should Takamatsu push the panic button, even though the Five Arrows are just two wins behind the three teams (Bambitious Nara, Oita HeatDevils, Shimane) tied for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot?

“Call it an excuse, call it what you will, but we had a run of really bad luck with the injuries and then the time off immediately after that,” Puckett said. “I personally don’t think it’s time yet to push the panic button.”

The Five Arrows this weekend will aim to claim their first win since Nov. 16 — an 82-73 decision over Shinshu — against the visiting Rizing, who are now led by Joe Bryant, who guided the squad to a series split against Shimane last weekend.

Weekly accolade: Fukushima guard Verdell Jones III had back-to-back 25-point games against visiting Iwate last weekend, helping the Firebonds record a series split.

The Indiana University product is the Lawson/Ponta Weekly MVP, it was announced on Wednesday.

Jones is averaging a team-best 17.7 points and 5.6 assists (No. 2 in the league) in 24 games.

Back to work: After missing 14 games due to a broken knee cap, Yokohama big man Wayne Marshall saw action last weekend against host Shinshu. He played 21 minutes on Saturday and 17 a day later.

The Temple University product had nine points on 2-for-9 shooting with nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in the series opener, a 76-73 loss for the B-Corsairs.

Marshall had six points, one rebound and one assist in the rematch, which Yokohama won 95-76.

Who’s hot: After an dreadful 0-11 start, Shimane (9-19) has won eight of its past 11 games.

Upcoming schedule: The following 10 two-game series are slated for the final weekend before the Feb. 1 All-Star Game in Gunma: Iwate vs. Gunma, Akita vs. Fukushima, Niigata vs. Sendai, Toyama vs. Saitama, Yokohama vs. Aomori, Hamamatsu vs. Oita, Shiga vs. Ryukyu, Osaka vs. Kyoto, Nara vs. Shimane and the aforementioned Takamatsu vs. Fukuoka series.

New addition: Guard Shota Tsuyama, who starred at Fukuoka University Ohori High School, has joined Ryukyu as an early entry player, the defending champion announced on Wednesday.

The 18-year-old Tsuyama’s contract begins on Feb. 1.

The 180-cm backcourt standout hails from Okinawa, and he called it a dream to play as a professional for the local team, according to a statement issued by the Golden Kings.

“I wanted to play basketball at a high level,” Tsuyama said, citing his desire to join Ryukyu.