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Jets dig deep to hold off Sunrockers

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

For the Chiba Jets Funabashi, their 42nd victory of the season in game No. 55 was a hard-earned triumph on Sunday. It was a win that wasn’t determined until the final buzzer sounded.

In succession, Josh Harrellson and Leo Vendrame missed 3-pointers in the closing seconds as the Sunrockers Shibuya dropped a 71-67 decision at Aoyama Gakuin University Memorial Hall. Vendrame’s 3-point attempt came after small forward Yusei Sugiura grabbed an offensive rebound with 5 seconds to play and fed the ball to Vendrame to give the hosts another shot at cutting the deficit.

In the end, though, Chiba’s formidable defense proved too much for the hosts to overcome. The Jets came up with eight blocked shots, three apiece by Michael Parker and Leo Lyons, one by Aki Chambers and one more from Gavin Edwards. Their alert, intelligent rim-protection skills limited Shibuya’s chances around the basket and preserved their slim lead down the stretch.

Vendrame had pulled the Sunrockers to within 69-67 on a layup with 25.1 seconds left.

With 14 seconds left, Harrellson stole the ball from Edwards. He then lost the ball, which led to Takashi Ito fouling Chiba’s Yuki Togashi.

Togashi, who had a game-high 33 points in the series opener on Saturday, sank two free throws with 12.5 seconds remaining. Both shots sailed through the net without touching the rim or backboard. Togashi finished with 11 points and four assists.

Vendrame scored a game-high 22 points and Harrellson had 10 points, 11 rebounds with four assists and two blocks. Ito finished with seven points and seven steals, four of which he made in the second quarter when the Sunrockers chipped away at the lead to pull within 41-36 by halftime. Yuki Mitsuhara added seven points and seven rebounds and Robert Sacre, who was held to 2-for-11 shooting after scoring 21 in the series opener (an 84-63 Chiba win), added six points.

Captain Ryumo Ono provided an offensive spark for the Jets with 17 points, including seven in the fourth quarter. He had eight rebounds and six assists in a solid all-around performance. Edwards, a University of Connecticut alum, added 16 points despite shooting 4 of 10 at the foul line and collected 12 rebounds, while Parker had 14 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. Kosuke Ishii finished with eight points.

Chiba coach Atsushi Ono cited defense and rebounding as keys to victory. Pressed for details about the team’s defensive strategy, he said keeping a close eye on Sacre, a former NBA center, was critical. The Jets players needed to “react and adjust to him,” the coach added.

The visitors didn’t let Sacre get into a comfortable shooting rhythm. Whenever the ball was passed to him, the Jets converged on him, giving Sacre little or no room to operate.

But the Jets hurt their cause at the free-throw line, making 17 of 28 shots. The Sunrockers were 11 of 12.

Parker made the first basket of the game, banking in a leaner in the lane. Moments later, Edwards delivered a strong jam to signal that inside play would be a vital factor in the game. That made it 4-2, Chiba.

Harrellson later hit a pair of free throws to tie it 8-8, then buried a turn-around jumper to give Shibuya a 10-8 lead.

The Jets came storming back.

Chiba used a 10-0 spurt to pull ahead 18-10 in the opening quarter and get the offense to heat up. Togashi made a nifty off-balance layup attempt, gliding through the air and drawing a foul. He canned to free throws to even things up at 10-10, then added a layup seconds later to put his team in front. During the run, Ishii nailed back-to-back 3s to help the Jets take command of the proceedings.

Chiba led 28-15 after the first quarter. The Jets took their largest lead of the game, 31-17, early in the second quarter on a Lyons 3-pointer.

Shibuya rallied, pulling within 31-22 on an old-fashioned three-point play by Vendrame, who scored 11 points in the quarter.

After both teams missed shots, the ball was back in Vendrame’s hands, and the speedy guard got past the defense and put up a scoop shot to make it 31-24.

Near the midway point of the quarter, Sacre showcased his low-post skills with a reverse layup, driving right to left before putting the ball through the basket. And that cut the lead to 31-26.

Back-to-back Edwards dunks, courtesy of pinpoint passes from Ono and Ishii, stretched the Chiba lead to 35-26 with under 4 minutes left in the opening half.

Early in the third quarter, Edwards made a highlight-reel play that reminded one of action on the football gridiron. He secured a defensive rebound, took a step and fired the ball downcourt to Parker, who caught it in stride and scored an easy deuce. Yes, similar to a long touchdown reception. Parker was fouled on the play, then sank his free throw to push the lead to 44-36 at the 9:05 mark.

In the fourth quarter, the gap tightened up. There were three ties, and the largest margin was four points over the final 10 minutes.: Shibuya held just one lead in the fourth, 61-60, on a Sacre free throw with 6:18 to play.

As their season nears its finish, Sunrockers coach Geoffrey Katsuhisa lamented the fact that they won’t reach the postseason.

“It’s a shame we can’t compete in the playoffs,” he told reporters.

Despite the loss, Shibuya (25-30) displayed a determined effort and a gutsy resolve. But costly turnovers haunted the Sunrockers, whose roster bears little resemblance to last year’s team. Katsuhisa once again pointed out that his team didn’t play at a consistent level for the full 40 minutes.

Vendrame spoke candidly to reporters about his team’s inconsistent play and shortcoming this season. He also pointed to the club’s solid effort in the second quarter, but echoed Katsushisa’s viewpoint that playing strong for 40 minutes is a key to success.

Asked about the team’s remaining games, Vendrame said Katsuhisa told the players to “carry ourselves with pride” to conclude the season.

Parker, meanwhile, said the down-to-the-wire win was a good test for the first-place Jets, who hold a two-game lead over the Alvark Tokyo in the battle for the East Division title.

“Every game can’t be a blowout so you kind of want a couple of these games,” Parker said. “Obviously you want to win before the playoffs, but you actually want some close games. You don’t want to just blow everybody out, because in the playoffs it’s going to be close.”

He added: “And with the way the scheduling is and the conference (matchups) are, you don’t necessarily get to play the top teams all the time, and you get a lot of times where you don’t really have to work on being that good and still (find a way to) win.”

Did the Jets lose their mental focus after grabbing the aforementioned 14-point lead?

“We went up by a lot, and that’s something that happens to us sometimes,” admitted Parker, “and then we had to just fight back and play. . .”

Looking back on the Jets’ eight-block performance, Parker summed it up this way: “A block is someone trying to shoot the ball, normally close to the basket . . . someone turning to get a shot and it’s like a save (in a baseball game) — like you saved it (with all the blocks).”

Albirex BB 69, Susanoo Magic 57

In Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, Davante Gardner had a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds and Kei Igarashi and Jun Uzawa both scored 14 as Niigata completed a series sweep of Shimane.

Lamont Hamilton added 13 points for the Albirex (25-30).

The Susanoo Magic (8-47) shot 36.4 percent from the field.

Al Thornton paced Shimane with 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Takuya Soma poured in 18 points and Gyno Pomare and Kimitake Sato both had eight.

Hannaryz 80, B-Corsairs 76

In Kyoto, in a back-and-forth game, the hosts were the better team down the stretch and salvaged a split of their weekend series with Yokohama.

The Hannaryz outscored the B-Corsairs 23-15 in the decisive fourth quarter.

Joshua Smith had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Kyoto (34-21), Tatsuya Ito scored 12 points and handed out five assists and Yuya Nagayoshi added 12 points. Yusuke Okada and Shingo Utsumi chipped in with 11 points apiece.

Julian Mavunga doled out five assists as Kyoto achieved a balanced offensive attack.

For Yokohama (17-38), Takuya Kawamura sank four 3s in a 22-point afternoon and dished out eight assists. Masashi Hosoya also canned four 3s and finished with 16 points. Jeff Parmer and William McDonald added 11 and eight points, respectively.

Lakestars 70, Storks 47

In Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, Shiga put 40 points on the board in the second half and held the hosts to 20 in a runaway victory.

Nishinomiya (9-46) had 37 points entering the fourth quarter.

D’or Fischer scored 15 points and pulled down 22 rebounds, including a B1 record 20 defensive boards, handed out five assists and blocked a pair of shots for the Lakestars (21-34). Teammate Takanobu Hasegawa poured in 13 points and Venky Jois had 12, while Narito Namizato contributed 10 points and seven assists.

Herbert Hill had 13 points and Noriaki Dohara added nine for the Storks, who shot 27.3 percent from the floor.

Evessa 80, Levanga 76

In Asahikawa, Hokkaido, center Keith Benson’s 25-point, 15-rebound, five-block performance played a pivotal role in Osaka’s second win in as many days over the hosts.

Shooting guard Shota Konno, appearing in his 500th game for the Evessa (22-33), added 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. Naoya Kumagae matched Konno’s scoring output, while Hiroyuki Kinoshita had eight points.

Daniel Miller paced the Levanga (25-30) with 21 points and blocked five shots. Takehiko Orimo scored 18 points, Dijon Thompson contributed 13 points and nine rebounds and Kohei Sekino had a 12-point outing.

Hokkaido extended its losing streak to four games.

Alvark 77, NeoPhoenix 67

In Tachikawa, Tokyo raced out to a 53-28 halftime lead, then San-en outscored the hosts 22-5 in the fourth quarter but collected its second defeat of the weekend in as many days.

For the victorious Alvark (40-15), Alex Kirk provided 19 points, including three dunks, and eight rebounds and Daiki Tanaka contributed 15 points and six assists. Joji Takeuchi and Seiya Ando had 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Wendell White led the NeoPhoenix (23-32) with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Scott Morrison finished with 21 points and eight boards and Atsuya Ota scored six points.

San-en suffered is fifth straight loss.

Diamond Dolphins 85, Grouses 67

In Nagoya, former Iowa State standout Craig Brackins’ 21-point effort on 7-for-10 shooting and Tenketsu Harimoto’s 15 points helped carry the hosts past Toyama.

Shuto Ando scored 12 points and Takaya Sasayama chipped in with 10 points and five assists for the Diamond Dolphins (28-27), who also won Saturday’s series opener. Taito Nakahigashi made an impact near the basket, snaring 10 rebounds in 23-plus minutes.

For the Grouses (22-33), Clint Chapman had 20 points and Dexter Pittman scored 19 and corralled eight rebounds. Naoki Uto added 11 points and four assists.

SeaHorses 69, Golden Kings 54

In Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, Mikawa transformed a one-point lead at halftime into a comfortable cushion by dominating the third quarter en route to a bounce-back victory over Ryukyu.

The SeaHorses (45-10) outscored the visitors 26-7 in the third quarter.

Veteran star J.R. Sakuragi carried the short-handed hosts with 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting and six assists. Fellow stars Makoto Hiejima and Kosuke Kanamaru didn’t play in the series finale. Shooting guard Keijuro “K.J.” Matsui, a Columbia University alum, received his first start of the season and scored 12 points, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range, and Takanobu Hasegawa added nine points. Center Isaac Butts finished with six points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.

Ryukyu big men Hassan Martin and Hilton Armstrong both fouled out.

Naoki Tashiro and Martin scored 12 points apiece for the Golden Kings (41-14). Martin also grabbed 12 rebounds and swatted three shots. Ryuichi Kishimoto and Ira Brown each had 10 points, with Kishimoto dishing out four assists. Armstrong added eight points and eight boards.

Second-division update

Here are the results of Sunday’s B2 games:

Fighting Eagles 77, Crane Thunders 68

Firebonds 90, Earthfriends 77

Rizing Zephyr 94, Volters 92

Robots 86, Big Bulls 69*

Northern Happinets 75, 89ers 60

Dragonflies 87, Wyverns 78

Brave Warriors 75, Samuraiz 64

Five Arrows 70, Bambitious 62

*Note: Ibaraki won a franchise-record 13th consecutive game by routing Iwate. The Robots (34-21) are tied with the Fighting Eagles Nagoya for the best record in the Central Division.