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Fukushima earns playoff berth as first-year franchise

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

In the penultimate game of their inaugural season, the Fukushima Firebonds clinched a playoff spot on Saturday.

The Firebonds accomplished the feat by beating the slumping Shinshu Brave Warriors 89-77 in Shirakawa, Fukushima Prefecture.

As the East’s seventh-place squad, Fukushima (20-31) can finish no worse than eighth, guaranteeing that the expansion team will continue playing in May.

Shinshu (19-32) suffered its fifth straight loss.

Indiana University alum Verdell Jones III sparked the Firebonds with a game-high 29 points along with 11 assists and four steals.

After the game, Fukushima coach Hiroki Fujita said, “I’m so proud of my players and I just want to thank our great boosters for fighting with us all season long.”

Firebonds forward Edward Morris offered these remarks in a post-game interview with The Japan Times: “(Making the playoffs) means a lot. Beginning of the year our goal was making the playoffs. With a lot of hard work we managed to secure a spot this season in the playoffs. Especially being a first-year team. I think many teams overlook first-year teams. So hopefully we can gain some respect within the bj-league as players and also as a franchise. Just happy for my team.”

Fukushima led 42-36 at halftime, then outscored the visitors 26-14 in the third quarter to seize control of the contest.

Morris added 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, Shinya Murakami poured in 15 points and center James Hughes had 13 points and 14 boards. Rising star Masaya Karimata contributed eight points, five steals and four assists in the victory.

Shoji Nakanishi led the Brave Warriors with 24 points and Mohamed Abukar had 22 points.

Golden Kings 64, Lakestars 50

In Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, defending champion Ryukyu held Shiga to 11.1 percent shooting from 3-point range in the series opener.

The Lakestars, who are 1-4 against the Okinawan powerhouse squad this season, were 2-for-18 from long range.

Narito Namizato was Ryukyu’s leading scorer with 13 points and do-it-all forward Anthony McHenry finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, two steal and two blocks.

Ryukyu improved to 42-9.

Jeff Parmer had 14 points and 10 rebounds for Shiga (33-18).

Grouses 89, Crane Thunders 78

In Isesaki, Gunma Prefecture, Joe Werner had 23 points and 15 rebounds and frontcourt mate Sam Willard delivered a 22-point, 17-rebound effort as Toyama prevailed against the hosts.

Tatsunori Fujie chipped in with 19 points and seven assists for the Grouses (35-16) and Masashi Joho added 11 points.

Toyama out-rebounded the hosts 50-34.

Carlos Dixon paced Gunma (18-33) with 23 points.

Hannaryz 90, Evessa 76

In Kyoto, swingman Shingo Utsumi had 16 points and four teammates scored in double figures as the Hananryz matched Ryukyu’s 2013-14 record for regular-season victories by recording their 43rd.

Kevin Kotzur notched a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds for Kyoto (43-8).

Takuya Soma had 24 points, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range for Osaka (28-23), and veteran forward Gary Hamilton added 15 points and 15 rebounds.

Northern Happinets 99, Broncos 71

In Akita, six Happinets players scored 10 or more points in a runaway victory over Saitama.

Shigehiro Taguchi was the leading scorer for Akita (40-11) with 20 points. Richard Roby and Kenta Tateyama both had 14.

The Happinets shot 24-for-32 from inside the arc and chalked up 29 assists on the night.

Gary Johnson led the Broncos (6-45) with 24 points.

Albirex BB 67, Big Bulls 62

In Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, red-hot Niigata rolled to its 10th straight victory, beating its East rival.

Patrick Sullivan and Yuichi Ikeda both scored 12 points and Thomas Kennedy, Kimitake Sato and Stephan Van Treese all had 11 for the Albirex (36-15).

Scootie Randall and Shota Onodera were Iwate’s top scorers, finishing with 12 points apiece.

The Big Bulls (40-11) shot 12-for-40 from 2-point range.

89ers 71, Wat’s 59

In Kuroishi, Aomori Prefecture, big man Jeral “Stretch” Davis scored 19 points and swatted four shots and Kejuan Johnson, the league’s leading scorer, supplied 15 points and seven assists as Sendai cruised past the Wat’s.

The 89ers (36-15) set a franchise record for wins.

Sendai star forward Wendell White made his return from an injury and played his first game since March 15, contributing eight points, five rebounds and two steals in just under 15 minutes.

Gyno Pomare had 19 points and 16 rebounds for Aomori (23-28) and Kyle Richardson and Gordon Klaiber each had 15 points, the former also hauled in 17 rebounds.

B-Corsairs 82, Cinq Reves 56

In Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Masayuki Kabaya had 19 points and five assists and Warren Niles and Dzaflo Larkai both put 16 points on the board as Yokohama routed Tokyo.

Larkai grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds for the B-Corsairs (17-34).

Zane Knowles finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Cinq Reves (5-46), who have lost 17 straight.

Rizing 89, Five Arrows 87

In Fukuoka, Josh Peppers’ 24-point performance ignited the Rizing in their season finale.

Fukuoka (13-39) earned a series split against Takamatsu.

John “Helicopter” Humphrey had 17 points for the hosts, and Cohey Aoki, Peppers and Rintaro Tokunaga all dished out five assists.

B.J. Puckett had 19 points for the playoff-bound Five Arrows (17-35).

The Rizing played the final half of their season under veteran bench boss Joe Bryant, who returned to Japan in January. They went 6-20 to close out the season.

Susanoo Magic 77, Bambitious 70

In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Joe Chapman and Bingo Merriex both scored 18 points as the hosts topped Nara.

Merriex raked in 10 rebounds to complete the double-double for Shimane (21-30).

Chehales Tapscott had 20 points and 10 rebounds for the Bambitous (12-39), and Tatsuya Suzuki dished out seven assists.

Phoenix 101, HeatDevils 54

In Beppu, Oita Prefecture, Hamamatsu (40-11) jumped out to a 57-29 halftime lead, and never looked back against the HeatDevils (18-33).