YOKOHAMA - There are only two games in the books, but Fukushima Firebonds rookie forward Le’Bryan Nash is off to a terrific start. Over the weekend, he delivered two big, bold performances, showing what he’s capable of doing during the 52-game season.
A day after putting 31 points on the board at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium, the Oklahoma State product topped himself with 37 points and 13 rebounds in the Firebonds’ high-energy 85-54 shellacking of the Yokohama B-Corsairs.
The B-Corsairs opened their season under new head coach Taketo Aoki with a 96-88 overtime triumph on Saturday, a game in which Yokohama out-rebounded the out-of-towners 64-54.
A day later, Fukushima was the aggressor and dominated on the glass. The Firebonds, a second-year franchise, had a 66-45 edge in that department in the rematch. Fukushima’s Joseph Taylor snatched 13 rebounds.
The 201-cm Nash, 23, revealed that after Saturday’s defeat, Firebonds coach Hiroki Fujita challenged his players, instructing them to do a better job on defense and rebounding.
That message resonated.
The B-Corsairs were never comfortable for game No. 2 on their season schedule.
Yokohama shot an abysmal 19-for-66 from the floor in the series finale. Newcomer Cory Johnson, who put 27 points on the board in the OT triumph, cooled off on Sunday. He scored a team-high 14 points on 6-for-18 shooting.
In a post-game interview, Johnson, who played college ball at Valparaiso University, admitted that the team’s other perimeter marksmen, including Masayuki Kabaya and Kenji Yamada, had a sub-par performance. Kabaya finished with zero points on 0-for-5 shooting and Yamada had a quiet seven-point afternoon on 2-for-10 shooting.
Looking ahead, Johnson said the B-Corsairs will “need to put together two solid games,” referring to the back-to-back games format. He also credited the Firebonds for being the more physical team on Sunday, saying his club failed to match their intensity. He cited Fukushima’s rebounding dominance as an example of this.
“They were more aggressive this afternoon,” Johnson added.
Fujita, in his second year at the helm, analyzed Nash’s strengths during the post-game news conference.
“His best strength is to attack, to attack in the open floor,” Fujita said of Nash. “When he gains momentum, he’s very, very tough to stop.
“He’s definitely, hands down, one of the most talented offensive players in this league. If he can consistently play defense and focus and stay with us for 40 minutes, he’s going to be a very, very good asset to our team and we are going to be a very, very good team.”
Fujita credited his players’ defense as one of the keys to victory. And coming off that win, he added that the club is looking forward to next weekend’s first home series against the Toyama Grouses.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Nash said he was happy to score 37 points, then admitted it was far from his lifetime-best game. With a smile, he recalled scoring 62 points while attending Lincoln High School in Dallas.
He was asked if he has his eyes set on scoring 63 this season, then shrugged it off, saying, “I’ve got to stay humble. I just want to win; that’s all I care about.”
“But, if it takes that for my team to win, (that’s an objective),” added Nash. “But I’m not trying to score that.”
Interestingly enough, Nash described Saturday’s loss as a helpful experience for the Firebonds. He said it fueled the team’s desire to come out and play with more hunger and focus in the rematch.
The B-Corsairs led 28-25 near the midway point of the second quarter before the Firebonds seized control of the game. Moments later, a Shinya Murakami 3-pointer tied it up and ignited a 12-0 run that put Fukushima in the driver’s seat.
In a sloppy first half, Yokohama committed 10 turnovers and trailed 41-33 at the break.
In the third quarter, things fell apart for the B-Corsairs, who won a championship in their second season under then-coach Reggie Geary in May 2013.
They scored just six points in the 10-minute period, turned the ball over seven more times and shot 1-for-17 from the field as Fukushima built an insurmountable 61-39 lead entering the fourth quarter.
By the end of three quarters, Nash had 29 points and had put his stamp on the game — with 21 shot attempts at that point, plus 9-for-13 shooting from the charity stripe along with 10 rebounds. And then he continued his inspired play in the final stanza.
Guard Masaya Karimata, coming off a breakthrough season for the Firebonds (15.1 points per game) in which he received the league’s Most Improved Player Award, opened his 2015-16 account with 31 points, six assists and three steals in the opener. He had a quiet game on Sunday, scoring all six of his points in the second half, but dished out four assists and helped run the Firebonds offense.
In addition to Nash, Fukushima teammates Stephan Van Treese (12 points, 12 rebounds) and Murakami (12 points) also scored in double digits.
Yokohama big man Jordan Henriquez-Roberts had 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks, while frontcourt mate Emmanuel Willis added nine points.
All told, the B-Corsairs turned the ball over 22 times on a day when their offense was hesitant and lacked rhythm, focus and creativity for key stretches.
Samuraiz 73, Hannaryz 68
In Kanazawa, the expansion Samuraiz recorded the franchise’s first-ever victory, earning a series split with Kyoto.
Well-traveled big man Gyno Pomare made a huge impact for Kanazawa, finishing with 18 points, 19 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Andrew Fitzgerald and Yuji Ide both scored 12 points and Masato Tsukino had 11, with Marshall Brown and Tsubasa Yonamine adding 11 apiece, the latter with five assists as well.
For the Hannaryz, Koki Yabuuchi and Kevin Kotzur had 15 points apiece and David Palmer chipped in with 12. Larry Owens added 10. Kotzur led the club with 12 rebounds.
Kyoto won the series opener 68-64 on Saturday.
89ers 80, Wat’s 75
In Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, Sendai dominated on the boards and picked up their second victory in as many days against the hosts.
Sendai out-rebounded the visitors 58-31.
Wendell White paced the 89ers with 22 points and 17 rebounds and Jamal Boykin scored 18 points. Fumiya Sato poured in 17 points and Taishiro Shimizu dished out seven assists.
Daichi Shimoyama led the Wat’s with 28 points, including 6-for-10 from 3-point range. Nile Murry canned five 3s in a 27-point outing. Makoto Sawaguchi handed out five assists.
Northern Happinets 91, Broncos 70
In Akita, balanced scoring carried the hosts past Saitama, giving coach Makoto Hasegawa’s club a season-opening sweep.
Richard Roby had 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Northern Happinets, who finished with five double-digit scorers.
Akita hauled in 30 offensive boards in the rout.
Du’Vaughn Maxwell scored 18 points for the Broncos.
Lakestars 79, Evessa 78
In Osaka, Yu Okada’s 23-point effort and newcomer Julian Mavunga’s 21 points guided Shiga past the Evessa.
Jeff Parmer contributed 11 points, nine boards and six assists and Kejuan Johnson chipped in with 10 points as the Lakestars improved to 2-0.
Shota Konno scored a team-high 18 points for Osaka and Lawrence Blackledge and Takuya Soma each had 17.
Susanoo Magic 91, Bambitious 52
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, center Josh Davis, a San Diego State product, dominated inside with 17 points, 25 rebounds and four blocks to signal his arrival as a force to be reckoned with in the bj-league, and the hosts completed a weekend sweep of Nara.
Scootie Randall added 22 points, while Jun Abe and Edward Yamamoto both put 14 points on the board, giving new coach Michael Katsuhisa a victorious opening weekend in charge.
Julius Ashby, Daiki Terashita and Josh Ritchart all had 10 points for the Bambitious, who shot 3-for-24 from 3-point range.
Grouses 75, Big Bulls 66
In Toyama, Sam Willard’s double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) and the Grouses’ overall dominance on the glass carried them past Iwate for the second straight day.
Toyama held a 53-32 advantage in rebounds.
Newcomer Duke Crews chipped in with 12 points and 11 boards for the Grouses, while Masashi Joho had 10 points and eight assists.
Iwate’s Tatsunori Fujie, a former Toyama player, had a team-high 16 points and Kaito Ishikawa scored 12.
HeatDevils 87, Rizing 83
In Oita, Chehales Tapscott supplied a game-high 26 points and Tatsuhiko Toshino’s 23 as the hosts earned a bounce-back victory over Fukuoka.
Takato Hara added 18 points and Patrick Simon scored 14 points and collected 20 rebounds for Oita Ehime.
Josh Peppers and Taishiro Shimizu each had 15 points in the loss.
Phoenix 72, Five Arrows 61
In Hamamatsu, Terrance Woodbury’s 28-point afternoon sparked the defending champions as they improved to 1-1 on the young season.
Reggie Warren added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Phoenix and Shingo Okada pumped in 13 points. Backcourt mainstay Masahiro Oguchi had three steals in the win.
For Takamatsu, Anthony Kent scored 20 points and Nino Johnson and Masamune Tate had 11 apiece, with Hiroyuki Kikuchi dishing out eight assists.
Crane Thunders 85, Brave Warriors 75
In Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, Thomas Kennedy’s 34-point outburst carried the hosts to a second win in as many days over Shinshu.