UTSUNOMIYA, TOCHIGI PREF. – Fumio Nishimura and Tyler Stone sparked the Chiba Jets in the decisive fourth quarter on Saturday with a combined 18 points (nine apiece), and the visitors finished strong to earn an 84-77 victory over the Tochigi Brex.
A Brex victory would have clinched the East Division title.
Instead, Tochigi (44-12) goes back to the drawing board for Sunday’s rematch, the series finale at Brex Arena Utsnomiya. The Jets’ magic number remains one.
Chiba improved to 40-16 and got a big boost from its bench, with its reserves scoring 45 points.
Stone led the way with 24 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including a trio of 3-pointers, and 7-for-7 at the foul line. The standout forward grabbed a team-best eight rebounds, with two assists, two steals and a block in 26-plus minutes.
Nishimura continued his inspired play of late with 14 big points, 3 of 4 from 3-point range, and three assists. On the season, the 30-year-old has 73 total points while appearing in just 14 games. That includes 44 points over the past three games in which he’s buried 12 of 17 3-pointers, getting increased minutes as regular point guard Yuki Togashi’s minutes are more closely monitored. (Togashi played just over 20 minutes on Saturday, with Chiba coach Atsushi Ono telling reporters that Togashi’s physical condition is not at its peak right now.)
The Jets used a key 7-0 run in the fourth quarter to pull ahead 77-69, and held on down the stretch for the win.
Nishimura’s third 3-pointer of the game capped the run with 2:19 remaining.
Chiba outscored the hosts 54-35 in the second and fourth quarters, getting increased scoring output in that span in a game where the clubs had two imports on the court for those two periods. (They were limited to one foreigner per league rules in the first and third quarters.)
Brex forward Jeff Gibbs, an excellent rebounder and low-post presence, missed the series opener with a right-knee injury that will also keep him sidelined on Sunday. He didn’t play on April 23 against the Akita Northern Happinets, either. Against the Jets, his offensive and defensive contributions were missed. Gibbs is a threat to notch a double-double in every game.
“Obviously, we missed Jeff in that situation,” Brex coach Tom Wisman told reporters.
The team’s subpar defense was the biggest factor in defeat.
“We gave up 54 points in the second and fourth quarters, and that’s just not us,” Wisman told reporters.”
Entering the weekend, they were allowing a league-low 69.3 points a game.
“We’re playing a team that can shoot the 3 and we knew that and we knew we had to make the zone (defense) cover the 3, and we didn’t get the job done,” Wisman said.
Chiba sank 7 of 20 3s, and also converted 25 of 36 from inside the arc (69.4 percent).
Tochigi outrebounded the visitors 36-28 and had ample opportunities to score more. The Brex made just 6 of 12 free throws; the Jets knocked down 13 of 17.
Overall, the Jets shot 44.4 percent from the field.
“When you get 72 shots to your opponent’s 56, you should win ballgames, and we didn’t,” Wisman said.
Ryan Rossiter paced Tochigi with 28 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Yuta Tabuse, Takatoshi Furukawa and Yutaro Suda all had nine points. Furukawa shot an uncharacteristic 1-for-8 from 3-point range.
“Defensively, we did not get the job done in the fourth quarter to give us a legit chance,” Wisman said.
Nishimura, meanwhile, played with confidence and purpose and found holes in the defense and capitalized on opportunities.
“He’s a luxury to have as a backup point guard,” Wisman said.
He added: “He’s been sitting for a long time this season and I’ve always known him to be a danger. He’s an experienced point guard who can really shoot it.
“When they knew we were going to be switching to the zone stuff, they had him out there and he did a great job for them. When I was national coach, I pulled him into the national team, so I knew what he could do.”
In a tight game with neither team leading by double digits, Chiba’s aforementioned run came at the perfect time.
What’s more, the Jets’ scoring balanced proved to be big, too. Hilton Armstrong had 12 points and Ryumo Ono scored 11.
It was, Rossiter said, “a tough game.”
“Chiba’s obviously a very good team,” he said. “They have a lot of talent, a lot of scorers. I thought we did a really good job for 36 minutes, and the last 4 minutes we just made one or two mental mistakes that cost us, and they made us pay on both of them.
“We just have to lock it in if we want to be a championship team.”
Nishimura said his team practiced to play against the zone defense this week, and it paid off.
As for his own performance in recent games, he said he “stepped up a little more.”
“The bench worked well together,” Nishimura added.
Coach Ono called it an important victory for his team, commending his players for their overall poise and productivity. He said the bench really made “excellent contributions.”
The Brex took a 25-19 lead into the second quarter. The Jets then pulled ahead and entered the third quarter with a 46-41 advantage.
Sunrockers 81, Grouses 74
In Tokyo, Shibuya scored 28 fourth-quarter points to secure a victory in the series opener against Toyama.
Ira Brown sparked the hosts with a superb all-around game: 20 points, 19 rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Leo Vendrame added 19 points, Robert Sacre scored 11 and pulled down eight boards and Kenta Hirose had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Yu Okada scored 21 points for the Grouses. Ryo Yamazaki and Dexter Pittman added 11 apiece. Sam Willard put 10 points on the board, while Kensuke Tanaka dished out five assists.
Brave Thunders 96, B-Corsairs 75
In Kawasaki, Nick Fazekas’ 35-poiont, 14-rebound effort led the hosts past Yokohama to complete a series sweep.
Naoto Tsuji knocked down 5 of 8 3s in an 18-point outing and Ryan Spangler added 11 points for the Brave Thunders. Ryusei Shinoyama handed out five assists in the rout.
For the B-Corsairs, Faye Pape Mour was the high scorer with 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Jeff Parmer finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Jason Washburn had 12 points and Masashi Hosoya provided five assists.
Yokohama made 2 of 18 3-pointers.
Evessa 70, SeaHorses 68
In Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, Xavier Gibson scored 15 points and Josh Harrellson notched a double-double (10 points, 12 boards) in a narrow victory over Mikawa.
Naoaki Hashimoto and Takuya Hashimoto chipped in with 10 and nine points, respectively, for the Evessa.
Kosuke Kanamaru paced the SeaHorses with 14 points and J.R. Sakuragi had 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Masaya Karimata scored 11 points and Makoto Hiejima contributed10 points and seven assists. Isaac Butts grabbed 13 rebounds, while Gavin Edwards blocked four shots.
Alvark 79, 89ers 62
In Sendai, balanced scoring and hot 3-point shooting carried Tokyo past the hosts.
The Alvark shot 12-for-22 from long range, including Daiki Tanaka’s 3-for-3. He had a team-best 17 points. Joji Takeuchi and Keijuro Matsui both scored 13 points and Diante Garrett had 11 with five assists. Jeff Ayres scored 10 points.
Takayuki Kumagai scored 13 points for the 89ers and Greg Mangano had 10 with 15 rebounds. Wendell White and Tshilidzi Nephawe matched Mangano’s scoring output.
Levanga 90, Northern Happinets 85 (OT)
In Akita, Takanobu Nishikawa’s 15-point effort and Asahi Tajima’s 14 points and seven assists helped guide Hokkaido past the hosts in overtime.
The Levanga sealed the win by making 21 of 24 free throws.
Jahmar Thorpe added 12 points for Hokkaido.
For the Northern Happinets, Lyon Lyons had 19 points and 10 rebounds and Scott Morrison scored 16 points. Takuya Nakayama, a 22-year-old guard, poured in 13 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Albirex BB 80, NeoPhoenix 77
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, the Albirex overturned a 41-30 halftime deficit to beat San-en in the series opener.
Big man Davante Gardner ignited Niigata with 28 points, including 10-for-10 at the foul line. Clint Chapman contributed 17 points and eight boards and Kimitake Sato had 14 points. Shunki Hatakeyama provided seven points, seven boards, six assists and a pair of steals in a scrappy performance, while Kei Igarashi scored six points and doled out six assists.
The NeoPhoenix missed 15 of 20 3-point attempts.
Josh Childress had 28 points and nine rebounds for San-en. Teammate Robert Dozier added 15 points and Atsuya Ota 10.
Lakestars 89, Diamond Dolphins 81
In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, Julian Mavunga’s 21-point, seven-rebound, five-assist outing and Faye Samba’s 20 points were vital in the hosts’ triumph over Nagoya.
Yusuke Karino put 15 points on the board for the Lakestars and Narito Namizato added 10. Craig Brackins finished with seven points and 12 boards.
For the Diamond Dolphins, Jerome Tillman had 23 points and nine boards and Justin Burrell made a big impact with 19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Takaya Sasayama added 10 points and five assists.
Hannaryz 80, Golden Kings 69
In Okinawa City, Kyoto held the hosts to 29 second-half points.
At the same time, the Hannaryz scored 44 points after intermission.
Kevin Kotzur had 20 points on 10-for-14 shooting and corralled eight rebounds for Kyoto. Marcus Dove scored 18 points and grabbed 11 boards. Hayato Kawashima and Takuya Sato scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.
For the Golden Kings, Ryuichi Kishimoto led the way with 22 points and Reyshawn Terry had 19.
Here are the Saturday’s results: Shinshu Brave Warriors, 83, Earthfriends Tokyo Z 74; Gunma Crane Thunders 73, Iwate Big Bulls 55; Nishinomiya Storks 85, Fighting Eagles Nagoya 73; Kumamoto Volters 84, Hiroshima Dragonflies 74; Aomori Wat’s 85, Yamagata Wyverns 69; Shimane Susanoo Magic 83, Kagawa Five Arrows 62; Ehime Orange Vikings 90, Kagoshima Rebnise 80; and Bambitious Nara 85, Tokyo Excellence 77.