The SeaHorses Mikawa opened the season with a road loss to the defending champion Tochigi Brex in late September.
Then they rattled off a team-record 16 straight wins.
The title-chasing SeaHorses are enjoying another epic win streak.
Their 12th consecutive victory was an emotional roller coaster, but also a good learning experience on Sunday. But in the end, several of their star players produced gaudy statistics to compensate for a few costly mistakes in the fourth quarter in an 81-77 victory over the Sunrockers Shibuya at Aoyama Gakuin University Memorial Hall.
Shibuya (22-22) dropped its eighth game in a row.
Mikawa’s Makoto Hiejima filled the box score with 26 points on 9-for-10 shooting and 6 of 6 at the free-throw line, seven assists and five steals. He also had six turnovers, a few of which occurred when the Sunrockers aggressively employed on-ball pressure with two defenders. (This tactic helped the Sunrockers mount a comeback in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t get over the hump. The hosts’ reliance on the 3-point shot — they made 5 of 26 — also hurt their chances.)
J.R. Sakuragi delivered a vintage 20-point, nine-rebound, five-assist effort with a block for good measure in 30 big minutes. The team leader said the SeaHorses (36-8) are hungry to break the team’s winning record cited above.
SeaHorses starting point guard Ryoma Hashimoto had 15 points and five assists. Isaac Butts grabbed 11 rebounds and Kosuke Kanamaru scored seven points on a day when he struggled to score (3-for-11 from the field).
The Sunrockers took a 2-0 lead to open the game on an Ito jumper. Hashimoto answered with a 3-pointer near the top of the arc. The visitors added to their lead seconds later, with Kanamaru scoring a layup on a nice feed from Sakuragi into the low post. Sakuragi added a jumper from the top of the key for a 7-2 Mikawa lead, and Shibuya called a timeout at the 8:29 mark of the first quarter.
The hosts rallied, closing the gap to 11-9 on a nice dish from Sacre to Yuki Mitsuhara for a basket inside, then tying it at 11-11 on another jumper from Ito, this one from the right baseline.
“We let the lead slip away in the fourth quarter,” said the 41-year-old Sakuragi, who rested on the bench for several minutes down the stretch.
“We are still practicing with guys out there. We are trying to learn how to finish the game over. We’ve got to learn how to do that to win a championship.”
He continued: “Normally, I probably would’ve checked myself in, but he (newcomer Courtney Sims, also a frontcourt player) needs to have experience and the guys to earn his trust a little bit, so just figure it out. That combination of Ike (center Isaac Butts) and Courtney needs to work.”
The team’s confidence is growing and growing, Sakuragi revealed.
“When you win games in a row like this, we feel like we can’t be beat,” he said, “and that’s the kind of attitude that we want to establish. We want to keep it (the streak) going, obviously. I’m trying to break the old record. I don’t settle for anything less. . .”
Analyzing Hiejima’s spectacular game and his impact for the team over the years, Sakuragi gave this assessment after the series finale: “I think he has the most talent in the league. I don’t say that just because he’s my teammate. I just say it because I have eyes. I see what he can do. He’s not one-dimensional. He’s a very exciting player. If you let him get free and do what he does, he does it well. He does it the best in the league. Give him the ball and let him make plays. He has that instinct that you just can’t teach.”
Sparked by Sakuragi, who led all scorers with 11 first-quarter points, the SeaHorses took a 19-13 lead into the second quarter, and increased their cushion to 27-15 on Hiejima’s layup.
After a timeout, Vendrame had a layup and sank the subsequent free throw to complete an old-fashioned three-point play with 7:15 left in the opening half.
Seconds later, Sacre scored inside to trim the lead to 29-24.
Closing out the first half, Hiejima showed his offensive range. A nifty scoop shot produced a layup and a 36-34 lead after Harrellson had tied it up on a layup. Hiejima then flushed a 3 from the left wing to make it 39-34 before Hirose closed out the half with a layup.
After three quarters, Mikawa led 65-52.
The SeaHorses stretched their lead to 73-55 early in the fourth on a Hashimoto 3-pointer.
The Sunrockers had their best offensive output in the fourth quarter, scoring 25 points in a fast-paced 10 minutes. They also had a 10-0 run to slash the lead to 74-67.
Robert Sacre, who finished with 19 points, scored eight points in the final period. Leo Vendrame had five of his 18 points in the period, including a big 3-pointer. Kenta Hirose added seven of his 12 points in the fourth, while Josh Harrellson, who had 12 points and nine boards along with a pair of blocks, provided five points in the final stanza.
Pressuring the inbounder and other ball handlers before the ball crossed halfcourt, Shibuya’s aggressive defense produced 11 steals, with Takashi Ito and Hirose leading the way with four and three, respectively. Vendrame made two steals.
Commenting on his team’s comeback, Ito said energy and defense were the key ingredients. He added that the Sunrockers “were more aggressive today than yesterday.”
Hirose said that the fans provided a lively atmosphere at the gym. His words to reporters couldn’t hide the disappointment of the defeat against powerful Mikawa. For Shibuya, it’s a “difficult feeling” to cope with this loss, according to Hirose.
Shibuya bench boss Geoffrey Katsuhisa, in his first season at the helm, commended his players for their effort, particularly in the second half.
“It was a difficult game,” Katsuhisa said, “but (our players) stepped up in the second half.”
The SeaHorses shot 51.8 percent from the field; the Sunrockers converted 41 percent of their shots.
“Our shooting was not strong enough,” Katsuhisa said, referring to Shibuya’s 32-for-88 performance.
Meanwhile, looking ahead as the SeaHorses continue to tinker with their strategies and rotations, longtime bench boss Suzuki said the team’s precise focus is clear: “Play, learn, grow, risk, communicate.”
Suzuki said “teams fight back,” and therefore, keeping focused in a close game is important.
Albirex 85, NeoPhoenix 73
In Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, Niigata star Kei Igarashi had 23 points and six assists and big man Davante Gardner scored 19 points as the Albirex salvaged a weekend split with San-en.
Igarashi, who surpassed the 6,000-point career milestone in the game, knocked down 5 of 9 3s.
Backcourt mate Masashi Joho contributed eight points and three steals, while Lamont Hamilton put 12 points on the board for Niigata (20-24).
The Albirex ended the NeoPhoenix’s seven-game winning streak.
Robert Dozier paced San-en with 26 points, making 8 of 16 shots from the field. Wendell White and Shuto Tawatari scored 13 and 10 points, respectively. Tatsuya Suzuki had an eight-point game.
Diamond Dolphins 73, B-Corsairs 71
In Nagoya, Taito Nakahigashi’s 15 points and Shinsuke Kashiwagi’s four steals helped guide the hosts to their second victory in as many days over Yokohama.
Justin Burrell delivered a 12-point, eight-rebound effort and Tenketsu Harimoto also poured in 12 points for the Diamond Dolphins (22-22), who are 7-3 in their last 10 games. Jerome Tillman scored eight points and Takaya Sasayama dished out five assists for Nagoya.
Alvark 79, Storks 51
In Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture, balanced scoring powered Tokyo past Nishinomiya, giving coach Luka Pavicevic’s team a weekend sweep.
Daiki Tanaka scored 16 points and Genki Kojima had 15 for the Alvark (33-11), who have won four straight. Jawad Williams added 11 points and seven rebounds and Zack Baranski had 10 points and three steals. Alex Kirk contributed nine points and 15 rebounds and Joji Takeuchi and Seiya Ando scored seven points apiece.
Herbert Hill had 18 points and nine boards for the Storks (7-36), who have dropped 14 consecutive games. Cameron Ridley finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Noriaki Dohara chipped in with eight points.
Hannaryz 89, Evessa 82
In Osaka, Yusuke Okada finished with 23 points, six rebounds and five assists and Masaharu Kataoka had one of his best all-around games as a pro with 22 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to lead Kyoto to its second weekend triumph over the Evessa.
Kataoka went 8-for-8 at the free-throw line.
Big man Joshua Smith added 16 points for the Hannaryz (27-17) and eight boards and Yuya Nagayoshi scored 11 points.
Levanga 85, Grouses 76
In Sapporo, playmaker Asahi Tajima put his stamp on the game with 13 assists to ignite the Hokkaido offense against Toyama.
As a result, the Levanga (22-22) avenged Saturday’s loss.
Marc Trasolini scored 16 points, Daniel Miller posted a double-double (14 points, 10 boards) and Takehiko Orimo and Daisuke Noguchi both had 10 points. The hosts sank 17 of 21 free throws.
The Grouses trailed 45-34 at halftime.
Naoki Uto paced Toyama (18-26) with 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting. He also had six assists and eight turnovers. Sam Willard grabbed 22 rebounds, while Clint Chapman scored 19 points, Yuki Ueta 11 and Yu Okada 10.
Golden Kings 82, Susanoo Magic 58
In Okinawa City, Ryukyu canned 11 of 22 3-pointers en route to runaway victory over Shimane.
The Susanoo Magic ( 7-37) suffered their 18th consecutive defeat.
For the Golden Kings (34-10), rookie sensation Hassan Martin, a University of Rhode Island alum, scored 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds and Ira Brown has 11 points and five assists. Ryuichi Kishimoto finished with 11 points and five assists and Naoki Tashiro and Shota Tsuyama had 10 points apiece. Takatoshi Furukawa put nine points on the board and Kohei Ninomiya recorded eight.
The hosts led 45-27 at halftime.
Former NBA forward Al Thornton scored a game-high 26 points for Shimane.
Gyno Pomare contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds, Kazuya “J.” Hatano added seven points and Edward Yamamoto handed out five assists.
Jets 85, Brex 68
In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, Gavin Edwards scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds and Ryumo Ono and Michael Parker poured in 17 points apiece as the hosts bounced back from a series-opening loss to Tochigi.
Parker finished with 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals in a well-rounded performance. Teammate Yuki Togashi added eight points and eight assists and Aki Chambers scored 14 points.
The Jets (32-12) led 42-32 at halftime. They blew the game wide open by outscoring the visitors 28-12 in the third quarter.
Chiba shot 50.8 percent from the floor, but only 1 of 13 on 3-pointers.
Shuhei Kitagawa had 16 points for Tochigi (24-20) and Yuta Tabuse contributed 10 points. Kosuke Takeuchi scored eight points, while Ryan Rossiter, who was held to four points on 2-for-9 shooting, pulled down 12 rebounds.
The Brex shot 39.4 percent for the game.
“Chiba made the baskets I wanted us to make from the beginning of the game,” Tochigi coach Ryuzo Anzai told reporters.
“I want us to learn from this game,” added Anzai.
Here are the results of Sunday’s B2 games:
Volters 97, Bambitious 85
Crane Thunders 63, Brave Warriors 56
Orange Vikings 83, Five Arrows 70
Firebonds 75, Big Bulls 72
Northern Happinets 99, Fighting Eagles 81
89ers 68, Wyverns 66
Robots 98, Wat’s 75
Samuraiz 74, Earthfriends 54
Rizing Zephyr 86, Dragonflies 82
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