The Tochigi Brex were a slow-starting team on Friday night.

But they heated up in the second half against the host Niigata Albirex BB, turning the tide in their favor.

The defending B. League champions rallied for a 71-62 victory in their series opener in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture.

MVP candidate Ryan Rossiter paced the Brex (12-15 overall, 5-5 in their last 10 games) with 16 points and snared nine rebounds. Cedric Bozeman and Shuhei Kitagawa each scored 11 points and Jeff Gibbs, showing signs that he’s recovered in a big way from his left Achilles injury last May, contributed nine points, nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in just over 17 minutes. Hironori Watanabe poured in eight points. Veteran forward Kosuke Takeuchi had six points and a team-high 10 boards, while Yuta Tabuse led all players with five assists.

Kitagawa was 3 of 6 from 3-point range and Watanabe canned 2 of 4. (Tochigi made 6 of 23.)

Niigata, on the other hand, sank 3 of 20 from long range. Point guard Kei Igarashi was 1-for-8 from 3-point range.

Davante Gardner led the Albirex (10-17) with 24 points and 16 rebounds. He had 20 points and 15 boards entering the final period.

Austin Dufault scored 16 points for Niigata and Igarashi had 14 points and four assists. The rest of the Niigata squad scored eight points.

Tochigi trailed 36-29 at halftime and an 8-0 spurt that extended into the third quarter put the hosts ahead by nine.

The Brex chipped away at the lead.

With 2:40 to play in the third, Gibbs made a difficult shot in the low post, negotiating the tight space between two defenders and squaring up for a jumper. That pulled Tochigi to within 46-44.

Brex guard Seiji Ikaruga then tied it at 46-46 on a layup. A Watanabe 3-pointer extended the lead and a Takeuchi jumper put Tochigi in front 51-46 with 58 seconds to play.

Gardner, a Marquette University alum who leads the top flight in scoring (28.9 points per game), cut the deficit to 51-48 with 41 seconds left in third quarter on a nifty spin turnaround jumper.

Tochigi outscored Niigata 24-12 in the pivotal third quarter, taking a 53-48 lead into the final quarter.

The Brex maintained their poise and made key plays in the fourth quarter to stay in control, including Kitagawa’s 3 with 9:16 to play that gave the Brex a 58-48 lead.

B-Corsairs 87, Lakestars 69

In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, former UConn and NBA pivot Hasheem Thabeet delivered a 26-point, 15-rebound performance and Takuya Kawamura sank four 3s in a 24-point outing as Yokohama outplayed the hosts.

Thabeet had numerous chances for 30-plus points, but struggled at the foul line (6 of 13).

Jeff Parmer notched a double-double with 11 points and 12 boards for the B-Corsairs (7-20), Masashi Hosoya provided eight points and seven assists and Ryo Tawatari contributed six points and six assists.

Floor leader Narito Namizato paced the Lakestars (11-16) with 18 points, eight assists and four steals. Teammate D’or Fischer had 12 points and 10 boards and Faye Samba added 13 points.

Yokohama had a 15-8 edge in second-chance points, capitalizing on its 16 offensive rebounds (the hosts had nine).

Levanga 69, NeoPhoenix 64

In Sapporo, an efficient effort by Hokkaido at both ends of the floor produced the team’s third consecutive victory by beating San-en.

Coach Kota Mizuno’s club extended its winning streak to three games and improved its home record to 6-6.

Marc Trasolini had 13 points and 10 boards for the Levanga (15-12) and Asahi Tajima, Ryota Sakurai and Zen Maki all scored 11 points, with Tajima and Sakurai each dishing our four assists. Daniel Miller corralled 10 rebounds.

Hokkaido led 40-31 entering the third quarter.

The visitors trailed 50-45 after three quarters and took a 64-62 lead late in the final stanza, but Sakurai tied it at 62-62 on an outside jumper with 2:12 to go. Miller scored on the Levanga’s next possession and they led the rest of the way.

Robert Dozier scored 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds for the NeoPhoenix (13-14) and Wendell White had 13 points and 11 boards. Shuto Tawatari added 12 points.

San-en, which fell to 7-9 in road games, committed 18 turnovers.

Hokkaido put 13 fast-break points on the board and limited the out-of-towners to four.

Evessa 82, Hannaryz 60

In Osaka, a strong start gave the hosts momentum in a lopsided win over Kyoto.

The Evessa led 42-29 at halftime.

Takuya Hashimoto paced Osaka (8-19) with 23 points and David Wear added 15 points and 13 boards. Naoya Kumagae had 11 points and Soichiro Fujitaka scored 10. Gyno Pomare contributed seven points and five assists, while Shinnosuke Negoro also poured in seven points and Hiroyuki Kinoshita chipped in with six assists.

The Evessa were 15 of 17 at the free-throw line.

For the Hannaryz (15-12), Joshua Smith finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Masaharu Kataoka had 11 points and Yuya Nagayoshi added eight.

Kyoto made only 5 of 23 3s, and shot 9 of 15 at the charity stripe.

The visitors were held to 38.3 percent shooting from the field.

Fueled by the Hannaryz’s 16 turnovers, Osaka outscored Kyoto 18-8 on points from turnovers.

Coach Dai Oketani’s Evessa squad had four turnovers.

Storks 82, Grouses 73

In Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, Naoki Tani’s 20-point effort and Noriaki Dohara’s 19 points helped steer the hosts past Toyama.

Coach Kensaku Tennichi’s club ended a five-game losing streak.

The Storks (6-21) took a 63-53 advantage into the fourth quarter.

University of Texas alum Connor Lammert finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and a pair of blocks for Nishinomiya, while Draelon Burns supplied 13 points, four assists and four steals. Guard Kenta Naito came off the bench and provided two blocks and two assists in nine-plus minutes.

For the Grouses (12-15), Yuki Ueta knocked down 5 of 8 3s to account for his 15 points. Drew Viney also scored 15 and Sam Willard finished with 14 points and 14 boards. Naoki Uto produced mixed results with 11 points, seven assists and seven turnovers.

Toyama is now 4-8 in away games.

Second-division update

Here are the results of Friday’s B2 games:

Wyverns 86, Firebonds 60

Fighting Eagles 88, Orange Vikings 84

Volters 84, Big Bulls 70

Northern Happinets 69, Samuraiz 67

Brave Warriors 72, Bambitious 62

Rizing Zephyr 74, Five Arrows 72

Noteworthy: Fukuoka star Josh Peppers is averaging 29.6 points over the past three games, including 37 last Friday, to help the Rizing Zephyr improve to 24-3.

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