Basketball

Toshiba edges Hitachi in NBL opener

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Toshiba Brave Thunders survived a late surge by the Hitachi Sunrockers and capped a 70-69 win in their NBL season-opening game on Friday night at Ota City General Gymnasium.

Nick Fazekas led Toshiba with 21 points and 14 rebounds, and newcomer Brian Butch chipped in with 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks.

“It’s big,” Toshiba head coach Takuya Kita said of the victory after the day’s only game on the NBL schedule. “It may be just one of the 55 games, but because it was against Hitachi, it’s mentally big.”

The Brave Thunders, the 2013-14 NBL champions, got off to a great start in the contest and led by as many as 23 points during the first half.

But Hitachi, which won last year’s All-Japan Championship (Emperor’s Cup), bounced back and took a one-point lead with about 2:20 left in the final quarter.

Toshiba maintained its composure and retrieved the lead. Trailing by one point with 1.7 seconds left, the Sunrockers had the ball, but weren’t able to hit a potential game-winning shot.

Last year’s MVP Josh Heytvelt scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Hitachi, which lost in the NBL playoff semifinals in the 2014-15 season.

Toshiba aimed for back-to-back championships last year but lost a few of its core players, including Fazekas, to injuries, and was ousted by eventual champion Aisin SeaHorses in the playoffs’ first round.

“We set our goal to repeat the title, so it was a disappointing result for sure,” Kita said. “This is definitely a good start for our players. It’s hard to play well for the whole 40 minutes, but it’ll come down to how much you can play with your own pace.”