The San-en NeoPhoenix have a new name and play in a new league. They have a first-year head coach and several new players, and they are just two years removed from their third bj-league championship.
Friday’s game didn’t have the same pressure as past title contests for the club formerly known as the Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix, but new bench boss Hiroki Fujita’s club faced a challenge entering the second half against a formidable foe.
The NeoPhoenix responded to that challenge, overturning a six-point halftime deficit and winning 87-81 against Central Division foe Kawasaki Brave Thunders at Todoroki Arena in their B. League series opener.
San-en dominated play in the 10-minute third quarter, outscoring the hosts 29-14.
Olu Ashaolu paced the NeoPhoenix (8-3) with 20 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. He had two dunks for good measure.
San-en mainstay Shingo Okada and shooting guard Shuto Tawatari both scored 12 points, newcomer Tatsuya Suzuki had 11 and made both of his 3-point attempts and fellow newcomer Junki Kano, a forward, matched Suzuki’s scoring output. Longtime center Atsuya Ota chipped in with six points and four assists.
The NeoPhoenix, who canned 11 3-pointers and shot 53.5 percent from inside the arc, dished out 20 assists in a balanced offensive performance.
Center Nick Fazekas paced Kawasaki (8-3) with 34 points on 14-for-22 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds. Naoto Tsuji added 20 points, draining four 3s, while Ryan Spangler had 10 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Ryusei Shinoyama finished with seven points.
The Brave Thunders led 22-13 after the opening quarter and continued their hot start in the second stanza, taking a 37-31 advantage into the intermission.
The NeoPhoenix never conceded, though.
First-year San-en guard/forward Richard Roby, who starred for the Akita Northern Happinets for the past three seasons, said his team stayed poised while it mounted a comeback.
The keys, Roby told The Japan Times, were “staying aggressive in the second half, staying in attack mode and everyone stepping up making big shots.”
The teams are now tied for the most wins in the six-team Central, and they’ll face a rematch on Saturday afternoon at the same venue. Tipoff is schedule for 3 p.m.
Also Friday, the visiting Tokyo Excellence handed the Nishinomiya Storks a 67-51 defeat in the second division.