Old reliable Cohey Aoki remains one of the few constants in an ever-changing Japan basketball landscape.

Season after season, Aoki knocks down big shots at crucial moments of countless contests. What’s more, his free-throw shooting accuracy (around 90 percent since the bj-league’s launch in 2005) is a legendary component of his game.

On Sunday, the nine-time All-Star guard was looking to give his club a spark after a lackluster 72-60 road defeat to the Bambitious Nara a day earlier.

And that’s exactly what he did, scoring a game-high 21 points as the Rizing Fukuoka defeated Nara 69-61 to salvage a series split.

Aoki was 7-for-14 from the floor, including three 3-pointers, and 4-for-4 at the line in Heguri, Nara Prefecture.

Josh Peppers chipped in with 12 points and three steals for the Rizing (5-3), Bingo Merriex had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Taishiro Shimizu dished out four assists. Donnavan Kirk added seven points and 10 rebounds.

Fukuoka trailed 31-28 at halftime, then outscored the hosts 41-30 the rest of the way.

Josh Ritchert scored 18 points for the Bambitious (1-7) and Junya Masumoto added 17, with five 3s in the contest. Big man Julius Ashby contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocks, while Tatsuya Suzuki handed out nine assists.

Northern Happinets 92, Wat’s 73

In Aomori, Richard Roby finished one assist shy of a triple-double and Scott Morrison put 19 points on the board to lead Akita to its second victory in as many days over the hosts.

Roby had 20 points, 12 boards and nine assists. Teammate Shigehiro Taguchi added 18 points and Yuto Otsuka scored 14 for the Northern Happinets (5-3).

For Aomori (1-5), Jesse Perry, a University of Arizona alum, was the high scorer with 19 points. He also pulled down 10 rebounds. Teammates Nile Murry and Daichi Shimoyama scored 14 and 13 points, respectively.

The Wat’s struggled at the free-throw line (13-for-22) and from 3-point range (4-for-24).

Firebonds 69, 89ers 67

In Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, a day after Sendai star Wendell White’s 41-point outburst, Fukushima bounced back from a series-opening loss and handed the hosts their first loss of the season.

White was held to 10 points and fouled out after 18:32 of court time.

Le’Bryan Nash, the league’s leading scorer at 33.0 points per game, paced the Firebonds (6-2) with 31 points and 16 rebounds.

Stephan Van Treese added 20 points and 13 rebounds for Fukushima, a second-year franchise.

The Firebonds led 35-31 at intermission.

Jamal Boykin had 17 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks for the 89ers (7-1), while Masaharu Kataoka supplied 14 points.

“We knew coming into this weekend Sendai was going to be tough to beat,” Van Treese told The Japan Times after Sunday’s game. “After losing by two (97-95) on Saturday, we were very disappointed. We were eager to get the win today. Yes, I believe (the win) helps our team’s confidence.

“We are competing to be one of the best teams in the bj-league.”

Van Treese praised the coaching acumen of Firebonds second-year bench boss Hiroki Fujita, who is also called Theo by players, friends and family.

“I think a lot of the success deserves to go to Coach Theo,” said Van Treese, a former University of Louisville big man. “He has put together a good team, and knows how to utilize his players.”

Looking at his double-double effort in the series finale, Van Treese admitted “I believe I have to score the ball and rebound to help this team be successful. I think if I keep getting double-doubles the people in the league will be more aware of me and my abilities.”

He credited the team’s more aggressive defense on Sunday as a key to victory.

“Wendell had a great game Saturday so we mixed it up on how we guarded him on Sunday,” Van Treese said. “We also threw the ball inside more on Sunday.”

Crane Thunders 69, Albirex BB 66

In Niigata, Thomas Kennedy’s 23-point effort and Michael St. John’s 15 points guided Gunma past the previously unbeaten Albirex.

Hirotaka Kondo scored 10 points against his former team and Masashi Obuchi contributed nine points and five assists for the Crane Thunders (4-4). Patrick Sullivan matched Obuchi’s scoring output as the visitors rebounded from Saturday’s loss.

Charles Hinkle had 21 points for Niigata (7-1) and Ryan Reed finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds.

The Albirex were held to 15-for-45 shooting from inside the arc.

Grouses 69, B-Corsairs 63

In Toyama, Masashi Joho scored 21 points and Sam Willard had 19 with 13 rebounds to lead the hosts past Yokohama, extending their winning streak to three games.

Loyola Marymount University alum Drew Viney added 13 points, eight rebounds and seven steals for Toyama (5-3), which limited the B-Corsairs to 25 first-half points.

Grouses guard Takeshi Mito chipped in with 11 points, five assists and four steals.

Cory Johnson paced Yokohama (3-5) with 17 points and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts had 16 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks, with Masayuki Kabaya scoring 12 points.

Big Bulls 80, Brave Warriors 74

In Azumino, Nagano Prefecture, Tatsunori Fujie rang up 17 points and Abdullahi Kuso supplied 15 points and 12 rebounds (six offensive boards) as Iwate recorded a series split.

Forward Jasper Johnson added 14 points and five assists and Isamu Omori had 11 points for the Big Bulls (3-5).

Mike Bell led Shinshu (3-3) with 27 points, 19 rebounds and five assists. Jaye Crockett and frontcourt mate Junki Kano scored 25 and 12 points, respectively.

Lakestars 92, Five Arrows 81 (OT)

In Takamatsu, after a 112-55 defeat in the weekend opener, the Five Arrows played a much more competitive game on Sunday, but lost in overtime to Shiga.

Julian Mavunga ignited the Lakestars (6-2, including 5-1 on the road) with 27 points and 20 rebounds and Kejuan Johnson chipped in with 23 points and seven assists. Jeff Parmer and Yu Okada both had 11 points.

Takamatsu’s Nino Johnson scored 19 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked seven shots. Masaaki Suzuki had 17 points for the Five Arrows (4-4).

“We watched film and adjusted to the small things and played our basketball,” Johnson, a Southeast Missouri State product, told The Japan Times on Sunday night. “(Our) coaches made great points during both games.

“Despite two losses, we improved in some aspects of the game and hope to keep improving and finding our DNA as one team.”

Golden Kings 95, Evessa 92 (OT)

In Osaka, the league’s fiercest rivalry produced another memorable encounter in the series finale, with Ryukyu avenging a loss from the teams’ previous encounter.

Draelon Burns poured in 33 points with 11 rebounds and four assists for the Golden Kings (6-2) and Evan Ravenel had 20 points. Anthony McHenry scored 12 points, raked in 13 boards and collected three steals, while Ryuichi Kishimoto had an 11-point game.

For Osaka (5-3), Lawrence “Trend” Blackledge led the squad with 27 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Narito Namizato had 17 points and eight assists against his former club and Takuya Soma scored 11 points. Olu Ashaolu provided 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Ryukyu secured the win at the free-throw line, making 26 of 29 shots, including Ravenel’s 9-for-10.

Broncos 91, Cinq Reves 62

In Tachikawa, Saitama entered the game with 100 losses in its past 111 games, then trounced the Cinq Reves to record its first win of the season.

Post player Evan Harris finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds for the Broncos (1-7) and Paul Butorac contributed 17 points and 13 boards. Takafumi Arashiro had six assists.

Center Hadji Ndieguene had 16 points and 14 rebounds for Tokyo (1-7) and Kodai Takahashi poured in 13 points.

The Cinq Reves had 23 turnovers.

Saitama out-rebounded the hosts 58-35.

Samuraiz 106, HeatDevils 88

In Nanao, Ishikawa Prefecture, Andrew Fitzgerald and Yuji Ide scored 24 points apiece and the hosts routed Oita Ehime for their second win of the weekend.

Ide sank 6 of 7 3-point shots. Fitzgerald was 11-for-15 from the floor.

Marshall Brown added 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists for Kanazawa (3-5) and Gyno Pomare had 16 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.

The expansion Samuraiz took an 81-61 lead into the fourth quarter.

Patrick Simon and Tatsuhiko Toshino both had 24 points for the HeatDevils (1-7).

Phoenix 68, Susanoo Magic 62

In Hamamatsu, Reggie Waren had 14 points and 17 rebounds and Shinnosuke Oishi and Masahiro Oguchi added 14 points apiece to carry the defending champions to a weekend split against Shimane.

Terrance Woodbury finished with eight points and 11 rebounds for Hamamatsu (5-3) and Atsuya Ota also scored eight points.

For the Susanoo Magic (5-3), Scootie Randall had 29 points and 13 rebounds and Jun Abe scored 14 points. Josh Davis, who was scoreless, finished with 14 rebounds and five assists while only attempting one shot in the game.

Hannaryz 76, Lightning 62

In Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, Hiroshima trailed 17-4 after the opening quarter and dropped its second game in as many days against the Hannaryz.

Kyoto (6-2) led 34-18 at halftime.

Larry Owens notched a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) with five assists, David Palmer had a 12-point outing and Kevin Kotzur had 10 points and 10 boards for the Hannaryz. Hikaru Kusaka and Rintaro Tokunaga both scored nine points in the rout.

Andre Murray was the high scorer for the Lightning (1-7) with 18 points and Adam Herman had 16.

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