OTAWARA, TOCHIGI PREF. – The final quarter, especially the final four-plus minutes, produced the defining story line of Sunday’s Tochigi Brex-Kawasaki Brave Thunders series finale.
Kawasaki heated up on offense.
At the same time, Tochigi cooled off.
The Brave Thunders capped their 75-58 bounce-back victory with an 11-0 game-ending run at Tochigi Prefecture North Gymnasium.
Inside stalwart Josh Davis paced Kawasaki (32-14) with 23 points, including 12 in the final quarter. Frontcourt mate Nick Fazekas added 19 points and a game-high 16 rebounds plus four steals. Naoto Tsuji and Takumi Hasegawa scored 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Kawasaki sealed the victory at the free-throw line, converting 16 of 19 shots. Conversely, Tochigi had limited success — and opportunities — with the clock stopped to score, making 4 of 9. Only Brex star Jeff Gibbs, who was 4-for-4, made a foul shot in the game.
Shuhei Kitagawa led the Brex (25-21) with 15 points, Gibbs had 11 and Seiji Ikaruga and Shusuke Ikuhara each had seven.
Ryan Rossiter, who had 15 points in Tochigi’s 82-77 win on Saturday, which snapped Kawasaki’s eight-game victory streak, was held to six points on 3-for-9 shooting. Floor leader Yuta Tabuse, who had an 11-point performance in the series opener, was limited to four points.
Both teams cited energy as a key factor in the day’s outcome.
The Brave Thunders were the more energetic team, as evidenced by their 40-27 rebounding advantage, including 12-6 on the offensive glass. (A day earlier, the hosts outrebounded Kawasaki 41-34).
In the rematch, Brave Thunders coach Takuya Kita’s club did a better job getting second-chance scoring opportunities. It started with hustle.
Kita described it as a “defensive game,” commending his players for their pressure defense, which forced 18 turnovers (the Brex also had 18 assists).
Relentlessly chasing after loose balls and getting them more consistently demonstrated that Kawasaki was the more assertive team. In addition to Fazekas’ aforementioned 16 boards, Yuma Fujii corralled seven rebounds and Davis and Lou Amundson both had five. Amundson hauled in his handful of rebounds in nine-plus minutes off the bench.
Comparing the team’s defeat with its streak-busting win on Saturday, Tochigi coach Ryuzo Anzai summed up Sunday’s contest this way: “Once again, energy was a big key.”
Kawasaki was more aggressive than Tochigi, according to Anzai.
Foul trouble also plagued the defending champions. Rossiter picked up four fouls and Gibbs fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Asked about the team’s 18 turnovers, Anzai gave credit where credit was due. He pointed out Kawasaki’s pressure defense and help-side defense worked well.
Kitagawa agreed with Anzai’s assessment, saying the Brave Thunders “played tough defense.”
In addition, he said, “(playing with) more energy is very important. We need to step up (our game).”
Kawasaki capitalized on free-throw opportunities late in the first quarter, with Davis making four in a row in the final minute of the opening stanza as his team pulled in front 20-15.
After a Kosuke Takeuchi jumper cut the lead to three, Hasegawa canned two more free throws as the visitors closed out the quarter with a 22-17 advantage.
Tight defense and minimal operating room for both offenses made good looks tough to come by.
Both Davis and Fazekas had eight points apiece in the first stanza; Kitagawa, 2-for-2 on 3s, was the Brex high man with six.
Tochigi trailed by as many as 11 points in the second quarter, but clawed its way closer. For the Brex, tenacious defense forced a 24-second violation in the last minute of the first half.
The Brave Thunders, who fell to Tochigi in the championship game last May, led 36-29 at halftime.
Tsuji sparked Kawasaki in the second stanza with eight points, showcasing his impressive jump-shooting skills. He shared the lead with Fazekas for first-half scoring (12 points).
Tochigi’s top first-half scorer was Kitagawa, with all six points in the first quarter, and five of his teammates all had four points.
In a sign of things to come in the second half, Tochigi was 0-for-3 at the line; Kawasaki was 8 of 10 before intermission.
In the first half, Hasegawa was 0-for-3 on 3-point shots. He found his shooting stroke in the third quarter and nailed all three of his long-range shots as the Brave Thunders benefited from his offense.
The second half began with Hasegawa knocking down a 3 from the left wing, giving his club a 39-29 lead.
Moments later, Hasegawa buried another 3, this time from the right baseline for a 42-33 advantage.
Nearly replicating his previous 3, Hasegawa delivered another big 3-point dagger near the midway point of the quarter to make it 49-37.
Kitagawa made a 3 from the right wing to trim the lead to 49-40.
And a baseline 3 by Ikaruga brought Tochigi within 54-45, then a Hironori Watanabe steal and layup made it a seven-point game. But not for long.
Gibbs scored the final two third-quarter points at the line.
A quick recap: Tochigi used a 7-0 spurt to slash the deficit to 54-49 entering the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth, the Brex got within two on a Gibbs layup.
Fazekas then re-entered the game with 5:51 remaining, and with a break in the action with 4:29 left, Kawasaki led 62-56.
Davis, an offensive force in the two-game series with 19 points on 9-for-9 shooting in the opener, delivered a layup and a putback in close proximity to extend the lead to 66-58.
The big run, fueled by stellar defense and Tochigi’s missed shots and turnovers, turned the tide. And Davis sealed the victory with a powerful slam in the final minute.
The game’s result didn’t surprise Gibbs. He’s seen the way the Brave Thunders respond to defeats over the years.
“Especially against a top team like Kawasaki, if they don’t win the first game they are going to try to come out a lot harder the second game,” Gibbs told reporters. “For us, we have to try to beat a top team in two days in a row. . . . Today we somehow just lacked a little bit of energy. We didn’t match their game.”
Meanwhile, the playoff-chasing Brex are back in action on Wednesday against the host Alvark Tokyo. Instead, of the usual two-game series on back-to-back days, B. League teams will not square off again the next day.
“The Alvark, they are a good team,” Gibbs said. “They are the No. 1 team in our conference (East). So far (this season), I haven’t played against them yet. For us, we’ve got to come out and play our game on Wednesday and play hard. We’ve got to stop a group of very good guys. We’ve got to pretty much play Brex basketball and Brex defense and come out and play 40 minutes of basketball.”
The rest of Wednesday’s top-flight schedule is as follows: Hokkaido vs. Shibuya, Kawasaki vs. Chiba, Yokohama vs. San-en, Toyama vs. Niigata, Mikawa vs. Nishinomiya and Osaka vs. Ryukyu, Shimane vs. Shiga.
Golden Kings 92, Grouses 80
In Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, the hosts raced out to a 29-15 lead after the opening quarter and held on to beat Toyama, salvaging a series split.
Ira Brown ignited the Golden Kings (35-11) with 21 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Naoki Tashiro and Hassan Martin both scored 14 points. Tashiro drained 4 of 8 3s, while Martin collected eight boards and swatted three shots. Teammates Takatoshi Furukawa and Takumi Ishizaki poured in 13 and eight points, respectively.
Ryuichi Kishimoto dished out seven assists for Ryukyu.
For the Grouses (19-27), Dexter Pittman made 11 of 12 shots from the field in a 25-point performance. Clint Chapman had 21 points and Yuto Otsuka scored 11 points.
Hannaryz 78, Susanoo Magic 68
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Kyoto extended the hosts’ misery en route to its second win in as many days.
The Hannaryz (29-17) received a big boost from Joshua Smith, who finished with 30 points and 15 rebounds. He made 12 of 17 shots.
Kevin Hareyama and Masaharu Kataoka each had 11 points for Kyoto, while Tatsuya Ito contributed eight points and eight assists.
For Shimane (7-39), Takuya Soma scored 15 points, Gyno Pomare put 14 points on the board and Kimitake Sato added 12. Al Thornton provided 11 points and Edward Yamamoto finished with 10 points and five assists.
The Magic dropped their 20th consecutive game.
Levanga 87, Alvark 81
In Tachikawa, balanced scoring helped lead Hokkaido to a bounce-back victory over Tokyo.
Marc Trasolini scored 22 points, Dijon Thompson had 12 with seven rebounds and five assists and Daniel Miller and Daisuke Noguchi both scored 11, with Noguchi posting a 5-for-5 stat line from the field. Ageless shooting guard Takehiko Orimo chipped in with nine points and Asahi Tajima had seven points and six assists for the Levanga (23-23).
Alex Kirk paced the Alvark (34-12) with 21 points and 10 boards and Daiki Tanaka had 14 points and five assists. Brendan Lane added 10 points.
Tokyo missed 17 of 21 3-point attempts.
SeaHorses 89, B-Corsairs 74
In Yokohama, veteran stars Kosuke Kanamaru and Makoto Hiejima scored 27 and 21 points, respectively, and Makoto rolled to its 14th straight victory by pounding the hosts.
The SeaHorses (38-8) dropped 33 points on the B-Corsairs in the third quarter to seize control of the game.
J.R. Sakuragi added 17 points, nine boards and six assists for Mikawa. Isaac Butts grabbed 12 rebounds and Ryoma Hashimoto chipped in with 14 points and seven assists.
For Yokohama (11-35), Takuya Kawamura had 17 points and five assists and Jeff Parmer added 14 points and nine boards. Masashi Hosoya scored 12 points and Hasheem Thabeet chipped in with eight points and 12 rebounds.
Sunrockers 84, Albirex BB 74
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Leo Vendrame sparked Shibuya with 21 points and ex-NBA big man Robert Sacre had 18 points and eight rebounds as the Sunrockers halted their nine-game skid.
Tomoya Hasegawa poured in 17 points and Josh Harrellson contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds for Shibuya (23-23).
Davante Gardner paced Niigata (21-25) with 33 points and 16 rebounds. Keita Imamura scored 12 points and Kei Igarashi added 11 points and six assists.
Diamond Dolphins 77, Evessa 71
In Nagoya, Toshihiro Nakatsuka’s team-high 16 points helped guide the hosts past Osaka as they completed a series sweep of Osaka.
Jerome Tillman and Seiya Funyu scored 11 points apiece for the Diamond Dolphins (24-22) and Tenketsu Harimoto had 10 points.
Florida State alum Xavier Gibson led the Evessa (15-31) with 24 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Naoya Kumagae finished with 18 points and six turnovers and Keith Benson had 17 points and 10 boards.
Storks 76, Lakestars 70
In Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, Nishinomiya snapped a 15-game losing streak
Herbert Hill nearly notched a double-double (23 points, nine rebounds) for the Storks (8-38) and Noriaki Dohara supplied 12 points. Cameron Ridley and Naoki Tani had 10 points apiece.
For Shiga (14-32), Venky Jois scored 16 points and pulled down 12 boards and Yusuke Karino finished with 10 points.
The Lakestars shot 39.7 percent from the field, including 4 of 27 from beyond the arc.
Jets 97, NeoPhoenix 55
In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, five Jets scored in double figures in a runaway victory over San-en.
Chiba (34-12) completed a weekend sweep by shooting 56.3 percent from the field in the series finale.
Leo Lyons energized the hosts with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and Michael Parker and Ryumo Ono shared the team lead with 18 points, with Aki Chambers scoring 12 points and Gavin Edwards 11.
The Jets made 15 steals.
San-en, who finished with 20 turnovers, trailed 52-32 at halftime.
Scott Morrison paced the NeoPhoenix (22-24) with 13 points and Atsuya Ota had 12 points.
Here are the results of Sunday’s B2 games:
Fighting Eagles 88, 89ers 85
Dragonflies 77, Five Arrows 73
Big Bulls 93, Wat’s 76
Brave Warriors 72, Wyverns 55
Northern Happinets 76, Crane Thunders 57
Samuraiz 92, Firebonds 87
Bambitious 88, Evessa 76
Rizing Zephyr 99, Volters 82
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