UTSUNOMIYA, TOCHIGI PREF. - For two straight days, the Tochigi Brex clamped down defensively on the Sunrockers Shibuya.
The initiative paid off for the defending champions as they closed out a weekend sweep with a 74-61 win on Sunday at Brex Arena Utsunomiya.
On Saturday, Tochigi triumphed 71-55.
To secure their second weekend victory, Brex coach Ryuzo Anzai pressed his players to exert effort on defense during a fourth-quarter timeout that helped them channel their focus and regain momentum down the stretch.
In the series finale before a packed house of 4,165 spectators, the Sunrockers didn’t score their 30th point until just past the midway point of the third quarter. They trailed 42-30 at that point, and saw the deficit rise to 51-32 on a Kosuke Hashimoto 3-pointer late in the quarter.
Shibuya (25-32) fought back and made it a three-point game, 57-54, on Robert Sacre’s two-handed jam.
The closest the Sunrockers got in the final 5 minutes of the game was 60-56 on a Kenta Hirose jumper at the 3:59 mark. Then Rossiter buried a momentum-changing 3-pointer to make it 63-56.
The visitors never led on Sunday, nor did they hold the lead in the 80 combined minutes of the two-game series.
For the Brex (33-24), emotional leader Jeff Gibbs scored 12 points, grabbed 11 rebounds (six offensive boards) and made three steals. Ryan Rossiter added 12 points a day after both he and Gibbs had six points apiece. Cedric Bozeman and Shusuke Ikuhara finished with 10 points apiece.
Anzai relied on his bench for big-time production in the series finale, with backups scoring 40 points. Seven reserves put points on the board, with Bozeman and Ikuhara sharing the lead in that department.
Veteran power forward Kosuke Takeuchi, a fixture in the starting lineup, was given the day off. Anzai said Takeuchi is coping with a variety of physical ailments but not a specific injury.
Fan favorite Yuta Tabuse was limited to 9 minutes, 6 seconds of court time.
The Brex used 12 players and quickly turned the focus to their upcoming home finale on Wednesday against the Alvark Tokyo.
Sacre led the Sunrockers with 15 points, eight rebounds and five blocks and Tomoya Hasegawa had 13 points, nine of which came on 3s, before fouling out. Josh Harrellson and Hirose added nine points apiece and Leo Vendrame scored eight, while Morihisa Yamauchi contributed five points and four assists.
After being sidelined for a few games, Bozeman admitted “there were probably a couple moments that I could have been better, but for the most part finding that timing and rhythm, getting rebounds and getting deflections and being in the right spots on defense, it all takes time and I’m trying to accelerate that.”
Asked about the team’s overall defense in the weekend series, Bozeman responded by saying, “I think we did a good job this weekend as a team as a whole. I think we followed the game plan and played hard and played for each other.”
Tabuse echoed those sentiments, adding that it’s good for the team to elevate backup players’ confidence by giving them key minutes before the postseason tips off.
Plagued by poor shooting and turnovers, the Sunrockers fell behind 13-2 near the midway point of the first quarter. But Yamauchi and Harrellson sank 3s on back-to-back possessions to pull Shibuya within 13-8.
Moments later, a Hirose 3 from the right baseline brought Shibuya within 15-12.
After one quarter, the Brex led 17-12.
With Rossiter excelling in the halfcourt offense — his seven first-quarter points led all players — the Brex outscored the Sunrockers 10-0 in the paint in the opening period.
Tochigi stretched its advantage to 25-14 on a pair of Gibbs free throws with 5 minutes left in the second quarter. He earned a trip to the free-throw line by getting fouled on a layup attempt after making a steal (stepping in front of a pass intended for Sacre) and racing upcourt.
After Sacre trimmed the lead to 27-19 on a jumper, Ikaruga buried a pull-up jumper to push the lead to 29-19, prompting Shibuya to call a timeout with 41.1 seconds until halftime. Sacre added a dunk on a putback for the final points of the half.
Tochigi walked off the court with a 29-21 halftime lead.
Through 20 minutes, the Brex defense had held the visitors to 7-for-27 shooting (25.9 percent). And only Rossiter with three buckets had more than two field goals in a low-scoring first half.
Indeed, the scoring picked up in the second half.
The hosts took their then-biggest lead of the game on an Ikuhara 3-pointer from the left elbow. Then Shibuya called a timeout with 5:27 left in the quarter.
Ikuhara later said he played with confidence both on offense and defense, filling in more than usual as Tabuse rested. Keys to the game, he said, included “sharing the ball and playing aggressive team defense.”
For the Brex, bench players received ample playing time and stayed fresh.
Early in the fourth, Hasegawa continued his hot 3-point shooting, making two quick long-range shots to help spark a Shibuya rally.
The Sunrockers kept pushing, but the Brex produced the final verdict.
Clutch shooting, including 3s by Ikaruga, Rossiter, Ikuhara and Bozeman (two) in the fourth quarter, widened the gap against the Sunrockers.
A crucial part of that was a 17-5 spurt that gave the Brex a 74-59 lead in the final minute.
Shibuya coach Geoffrey Katsuhisa said, “We played a super team, a team that plays hard. We wish them the best in the B. League Championship.”
Katsuhisa said his team played better offense and defense in stretches of the Sunday rematch.
Anzai, meanwhile, said his club’s 3-point productivity in the fourth quarter proved to be a key factor. “Good spacing on offense (created 3-point opportunities),” he added.
Aggressive defensive pressure was another focal point for the Brex, and Anzai said his players “worked hard to play our game.”
Albirex BB 84, NeoPhoenix 81
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, Davante Gardner sparked the hosts with 38 points and nine rebounds and a balanced team offensive attack helped the Albirex defeat San-en for the second day in a row.
Keita Imamura added 15 points, Kei Igarashi scored 13 and registered seven assists and Lamont Hamilton provided 10 points and eight boards for Niigata (27-30).
The Albirex sealed the win by making 19 of 22 foul shots.
Wendell White had 24 points and seven rebounds for the NeoPhoenix (23-34) and Robert Dozier scored 22 points. Atsuya Ota had eight points and Hayato Kawashima contributed seven points, eight rebounds and 10 assists, with Shuto Tawatari matching Kawashima’s point total.
Evessa 79, Lakestars 61
In Osaka, Xavier Gibson energized the hosts with a 32-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance and the Evessa salvaged a series split with Shiga.
Keith Benson added 13 points and 10 rebounds and Hiroyuki Kinoshita had nine points and seven assists for Osaka (23-34), which led 33-20 at halftime.
D’or Fischer led the Lakestars (22-35) with 24 points and 16 rebounds. Narito Namizato had nine points on 3-for-17 shooting and doled out eight assists. Tomonobu Hasegawa also poured in nine points.
Grouses 95, SeaHorses 92
In Toyama, Naoki Uto made a go-ahead inside jumper with 37 seconds remaining and teammate Clint Chapman capped the hosts’ down-to-the-wire outing with a dunk, giving them a bounce-back victory over Mikawa.
The SeaHorses’ Ryoma Hashimoto missed a potential game-winning 3 before the final buzzer.
For the Grouses (23-34), Chapman scored 33 points and snared nine rebounds. Uto delivered a 30-point, 14-assist effort and former NBA center Dexter Pittman had 10 points, eight boards and six assists. Yuki Ueta finished with 10 points.
Toyama was 14-for-14 at the free-throw line.
Kosuke Kanamaru scored 26 points for Mikawa (46-11) and Keijuro Matsui had 21 points, including 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. Masaaki Morikawa chipped in with 14 points and Courtney Sims grabbed 11 rebounds.
Jets 97, Levanga 84
In Chiba, Leo Lyons scored 18 points and dished out five assists and Gavin Edwards notched a double-double (15 points, 10 boards) as the Jets moved closer to clinching the East Division title.
Michael Parker made his mark in all facets of the game, giving Chiba 17 points on 8-for-10 shooting, eight rebounds, four steals and two blocks. Ryumo Ono also put 17 points on the board, while Yuki Togashi contributed 13 points and eight assists.
The Jets (44-13) shot 50 percent from the floor while winning their sixth straight game.
Marc Trasolini paced Hokkaido (25-32) with 42 points. The Santa Clara University made 17 of 20 shots, including all five of his 3-point attempts. Daniel Miller followed with 13 points and corralled nine rebounds for the visitors and Asahi Tajima dished out six assists.
Alvark 75, Golden Kings 61
In Okinawa City, Tokyo’s shooters spent a lot more time than the hosts at the foul line during the series finale, and the Alvark avenged their series-opening loss.
The Alvark knocked down 21 of 32 free throws; the Kings made 5 of 8.
Alex Kirk guided Tokyo with 19 points and Yudai Baba and Seiya Ando scored 13 apiece. Joji Takeuchi finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. Baba and Genki Kojima each handed out four assists for the Alvark (41-16), who trail the Jets by three games in the East Division standings with three regular-season games remaining before the eight-team B. League Championship commences.
For Ryukyu (42-15), Ryuichi Kishimoto scored 14 points and Takatoshi Furukawa poured in 13. Naoki Tashiro and Hassan Martin added 11 and nine points, respectively. Forward Ira Brown had a frustrating afternoon with zero points and six turnovers, and also pulled down nine rebounds.
The Kings turned the ball over 18 times.
Susanoo Magic 92, Storks 72
In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, small forward Takayuki Kumagai made the most of his first start of the season (in his 40th game), scoring a team-high 21 points and dishing out five assists as the hosts finished the weekend with a bounce-back victory over Nishinomiya.
Kimitake Sato chipped in with 18 points and Josh Scott had 17 points and nine boards for Shimane (9-48). Al Thornton scored 10 points and Kazuya “J.” Hatano added nine.
Draelon Burns led the Storks (10-47) with 24 points, Naoki Tani had 12 and Cameron Ridley 10.
Here are the results of Sunday’s B2 games:
Fighting Eagles 102, Big Bulls 69
Dragonflies 90, Samuraiz 86
Wat’s 79, Five Arrows 75
Firebonds 89, 89ers 84
Northern Happinets 83, Wyverns 73
Robots 77, Crane Thunders 63*
Brave Warriors 93, Earthfriends 67
Volters 92, Bambitious 75
Rizing Zephyr 88, Orange Vikings 71
*Note: Ibaraki has won 15 consecutive games.