The Tochigi Brex advanced to the B. League Championship final, holding off the visiting SeaHorses Mikawa in the Game 3 tiebreaker on Sunday afternoon.
The Brex’s 14-12 win in the 10-minute mini-game came after their 65-63 defeat before a 15-minute intermission.
Third-seeded Mikawa led 57-38 after three quarters in Game 2, holding on despite Tochigi’s 25-point fourth quarter in a dramatic semifinal contest.
That set the stage for a winner-take-all tiebreaker before 3,997 spectators.
The second-seeded Brex (50-16) will meet the top-seeded Kawasaki Brave Thunders in the B. League first-division title game on Saturday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Tipoff is 3:10 p.m.
Mikawa sharpshooter Kosuke Kanamaru nailed a jumper to put the visitors ahead 12-8 with 2:07 remaining.
Tochigi coach Tom Wisman’s team went on a 6-0 run to the end the mini-game.
Brex forward Ryan Rossiter scored inside to cut the lead to two with 1:51 left. Teammate Yusuke Endo’s jumper from close range tied it at 12-12 with 21 seconds to play.
The SeaHorses were unable to score down the stretch, and in the closing seconds the ball wound up in Rossiter’s hands. He converted a clutch jumper with 2 seconds left for the final points of the 10-minute tiebreaker.
Mikawa’s season ended with a 49-16 record.
The SeaHorses led 8-6 after the first five-minute period of the mini-game.
Rossiter was the high scorer in the 10-minute tiebreaker, putting seven points on the board. He grabbed five rebounds, playing all 10 minutes. Teammate Takatoshi Furukawa scored three points, making 1 of 4 3s. Gibbs and Yusuke Endo each had two points, with Gibbs dishing out three assists. Gibbs and Endo both blocked a shot in Game 3.
Kanamaru scored six points for the SeaHorses in Game 3, Gavin Edwards had four and Makoto Hiejima two.
“Game 2 was extremely tough for us,” Rossiter, a Siena College alum, told The Japan Times on Sunday night. “Mikawa came out very hard and played physical. We didn’t get into a great flow on offense until late in the game, we made a great run in the fourth.”
A 17-0 spurt pulled Tochigi to within 57-55 with 4:23 left.
A great fourth quarter wasn’t enough for the Brex to win the game and avoid having to play the tiebreaker.
The former JBL (and its successor, NBL) rivals met twice during the regular season, with both teams winning once. Before this weekend, they hadn’t met since Dec. 3-4, and those two games were decided by nine points; both teams went 46-16 during the regular season.
In Game 2, Kanamaru paced the SeaHorses with 21 points. Hiejima poured in 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out four assists. Edwards contributed 10 points and Isaac Butts had six points and 14 boards. J.R. Sakuragi added eight points, six rebounds and four assists. Ryoma Hashimoto made a game-high three steals.
Jeff Gibbs led the Brex with 13 points and handed out three assists, while Rossiter scored 11 points, corralled 11 boards and swatted two shots. Naoya Kumagae had nine points and Hironori Watanabe finished with eight and doled out three assists.
When both former NBL teams returned to the floor for the additional drama of the mini-game, a format used in the bj-league before the merger with the NBL that created the B. League for the 2016-17 campaign, it was a new experience for them.
“The third game was all heart, we refused to give up and never thought we would lose,” Rossiter said. “We talk about hustle and heart all season and really showed that today.”
After playing in the 10-minute tiebreaker for the first time, he was asked what he thought of it.
“This is definitely an interesting format for playoffs,” Rossiter said. “The fans in both semifinal series were able to see an exciting winner-take-all for the series, but it’s very tough as a player to play those extra minutes right after a tough loss or emotional win.”
Veteran forward Sakuragi, who made his SeaHorses debut in 2001, reacted to his team’s final games of the season in an interview.
“I’m very proud of my team,” the 40-year-old former NBA forward told The Japan Times. “(We) fought hard in the second game. I wanted to come out aggressive and hoped my teammates would follow, which they did.
“We were trying to rest guys in the fourth to prepare for the “third game’ (glorified OT), but lost our big lead and consequently our momentum.”
He added: “I do not care for this format at all. If there were a Game 3, I could have set the same tone and won another game. Ten minutes makes any type of rotation pattern impossible. So you end up with exhausted players making mistakes they wouldn’t normally make. The quality of basketball also goes down.
“It was hard for me to believe that was it when the buzzer went off. (It) didn’t feel like we had been beaten by a better team. We fell to the format.”