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Alvark close out regular season with comprehensive win over Hannaryz

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

Effort, athleticism and energy fueled the Alvark Tokyo’s runaway victory over the undermanned Kyoto Hannaryz on Sunday afternoon.

Tokyo pounded Kyoto 106-68 before a spirited crowd at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi, which also witnessed Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist figure skater Shoma Uno taking part in the ceremonial tipoff. (Uno tossed mini-souvenir basketballs to fans during a timeout. The popular skater also posed for photos with Alvark cheerleaders after the game.)

Six Alvark players scored in double figures, and the offense picked up steam as the game progressed.

Missing star big man Joshua Smith due to a suspension issued by the B. League earlier in the week after he took his frustration out on a basketball that ricocheted into the stands and hit a fan Wednesday, the Hannaryz lacked some of their typical scoring punch and inside toughness. Hannaryz coach Honoo Hamaguchi also rested forward Marcus Dove and point guard Tatsuya Ito.

Tokyo outrebounded the visitors 40-19 and finished with a 16-3 edge in second-chance points plus a 42-18 advantage in points in the paint.

The Alvark (44-16) finished second overall in the tough six-team East Division. Four East teams had winning records in the regular season: Chiba Jets Funabashi (46-14), Kawasaki Brave Thunders (41-19) and defending champ Tochigi Brex (34-26).

“This was the last game of one very demanding, strong season,” Tokyo coach Luka Pavicevic commented, addressing the crowd before meeting reporters. “I think your team really tried hard to give you a good basketball event today.”

The Alvark will meet the Hannaryz again next Saturday and Sunday in the B. League Championship quarterfinals. The other quarterfinal participants are Chiba, Kawasaki, Tochigi, SeaHorses Mikawa, Nagoya Diamond Dolphins and Ryukyu Golden Kings.

Pavicevic, in his first year at the helm, looked back on the game with a thorough analysis.

“I would like to congratulate my team on having a good game and winning a second game against Kyoto,” Pavicevic told reporters. “So for us, the must-win (game) was yesterday, when we wanted to close the gap between Kawasaki in order to clinch the second spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Kyoto was without a real need for a result. Yesterday they played probably a preparation game. Today, they had to rest players. So I would say this game is not a big measure of the ratio between the two teams, but what we wanted was to have a good game in front of our crowd, and we wanted to have another victory . . . (to be) in the top three in the league we are now.”

He went on: “So with this game we closed one very demanding season. . .”

Hamaguchi, who has led Kyoto since the 2011-12 bj-league season, said he hopes Ito and Dove are available for the playoffs. When a reporter asked him about their nagging injuries, he didn’t elaborate on the status of their physical condition.

Looking ahead, Hamaguchi said it’s time to put the focus of the regular season behind.

For the playoffs, he said, “it’s once again (time) to reset.”

Hannaryz shooting guard Masaharu Kataoka said, “It’s a new feeling for the playoffs.”

Pavicevic gave 12 Alvark players court time in the regular-season finale, with 11 of them putting points on the board. Zack Baranski scored a team-best 20 points, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Joji Takeuchi and Alex Kirk both had 13 points, Jawad Williams poured in 12, Genki Kojima had 11 and Brendan Lane scored 10. Yudai Baba added nine and Seiya Ando finished with seven. Daiki Tanaka, a flashy but polished playmaker, provided six points and five assists.

Lane grabbed eight rebounds, sharing team lead in offensive boards (four) with Kirk.

Tokyo shot 62 percent overall, including 13 of 23 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Alvark made 31 of 48 shots from 2-point range, and finished with 24 assists and nine turnovers.

Kirk admitted he expects a more intense showdown in the upcoming series against Kyoto.

“I think compared to next week today was more relaxed,” he told The Japan Times in a post-game interview. “I might say overall much more relaxed. I think both teams played hard. Obviously next week it’s going to be a lot more (intense) because obviously there’s a lot more on the line, and definitely that first game, I think they are going to come out and give it everything they’ve got that first game. You want that first win, so then you don’t have to come back the second day and fight for your life. You want to be in control of it, just like they do.”

Julian Mavunga led the Hannaryz (34-26) with 23 points and Kevin Hareyama had 17 points. Kataoka and Yusuke Okada added nine and six points, respectively.

Early in the first quarter, Okada sank 3-pointers on consecutive possessions, giving Kyoto a 6-2 lead. Okada had zero points on 0-for-4 shooting in the series opener, and he immediately looked for his shot in the series finale.

An Ando steal, layup and free throws made it 12-11, Tokyo, with 5:01 left in the quarter.

The teams traded baskets throughout the quarter with the largest margin reaching only four points.

Kyoto led 24-20 after the opening stanza.

The Alvark then put their stamp on the game in the second quarter, when they outscored the visitors 25-9.

After a stop-and-pop jumper by Ando gave the hosts a 29-24 lead, Kyoto called a timeout at the 7:39 mark.

With the ball moving quickly around the perimeter — numerous passes were made without dribbling — Tokyo created a good look for Shohei Kikuchi on the left wing. And the veteran forward drained a nothing-but-net 3 for a 36-27 lead.

Moments later, Williams’ nifty spin-move layup made it 38-27 before an official game timeout with 4:37 to play before halftime.

A Baranski 3 gave Tokyo a 43-33 lead with just under 2 minutes before halftime.

The Hannaryz faced a 45-33 deficit entering the third quarter, and they never recovered.

The final 20 minutes saw the lead grow and grow and grow as the Alvark utilized their deep bench and capitalized on their big size advantage, scoring points in a hurry from all over the court.

With about 6 minutes remaining in the third, Takeuchi canned a 3-pointer to give Tokyo a 53-39 lead.

Shortly thereafter, following a Kyoto turnover, Tanaka fed the ball to Lane, who jumped and dunked over the Hannaryz defense, giving the hosts a 57-39 advantage.

To their credit, the Alvark kept the pressure on Kyoto, scoring at a steady rate. Three-pointers helped build the lead more and more as the quarter progressed, and Kyoto faced a 76-49 hole after three quarters.

Takeuchi sparked the Tokyo offense in the third with 10 points, including a pair of 3s.

“Our goal is to leave behind the regular season of the B. League Championship,” Pavicevic said, “as it is a completely separate competition.”

The Alvark, who have won four in a row, now shift their focus to the playoffs.

Lakestars 78, Grouses 76

In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, Toyama’s 27-point fourth quarter was not enough to end the season with a bounce-back win over the hosts.

Faye Samba paced the Lakestars (24-36) with 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Koyo Takahashi scored 16 points and Venky Jois had 14, as did Narito Namizato, who made 6 of 22 shots and dished out 10 assists. D’or Fischer pulled down 13 rebounds.

Clint Chapman had a 15-point outing for the Grouses (24-36) and Yuto Otsuka poured in 14. Naoki Uto, dueling with fellow point guard Namizato, had 13 points on 4-for-20 shooting and 11 assists. Sam Willard contributed eight points and 12 boards, while Dexter Pittman and Takeshi Mito both finished with eight points.

B-Corsairs 77, Susanoo Magic 66

In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, Hasheem Thabeet lifted Yokohama with 33 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in a bounce-back triumph over the hosts.

Jotaro Mitsuda scored 12 points, Takuya Kawamura had 10 and William McDonald filled the stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Yokohama (18-42) held Shimane to 39.1 percent shooting.

Josh Scott led the Susanoo Magic (11-49) with 17 points and eight boards, Gyno Pomare contributed 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocks and Takuya Soma added 14 points and 11 assists. Al Thornton finished with six points.

SeaHorses 86, Brave Thunders 83

In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, J.R. Sakuragi’s tone-setting 24-point, 11-rebound, six-assist performance helped Mikawa salvage a series split against Kawasaki.

Courtney Sims added 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, Makoto Hiejima added 12 points and Keijuro “K.J.” Matsui provided 10 points and three steals for the SeaHorses (48-12), who finished with the top regular-season record in the 18-team top division. Isaac Butts finished with eight points and 10 rebounds and Kosuke Kanamaru scored eight points.

Sakuragi, a former UCLA standout and Vancouver Grizzlies forward, surpassed the 10,000-point milestone during his illustrious career with the SeaHorses. He first suited up for the club in 2001, when it was known by its then-corporate name (Aisin) and played in the JBL. Sakuragi’s face was displayed on the team’s big-screen video monitors at the arena in tribute to his feat along with the words “RAISE The BLUE PRIDE.”

Mikawa missed 15 of its 19 3-point shots.

Nick Fazekas sparked the visitors with 28 points and snared 13 boards. Naoto Tsuji had 15 points, Josh Davis scored 10 and collected eight rebounds and Yuma Fujii added eight points and seven assists for the Brave Thunders.

Storks 92, NeoPhoenix 90

In Hamamatsu, Draelon Burns energized Nishinomiya with 28 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three steals as last season’s B2 champion ended the 2017-18 campaign on a high note by avenging Saturday’s loss to San-en.

Yu Okada scored 27 points for the Storks (12-48), whose status for next season will depend on the upcoming relegation-promotion playoffs. (The Yokohama B-Corsairs, Toyama Grouses and Shimane Susanoo Magic will also compete as B1 representatives against TBD B2 foes.)

Herbert Hill and Noriaki Dohara each had 12 points for Nishinomiya.

For the NeoPhoenix (25-35), Atsuya Ota scored 18 points and corralled nine rebounds. Wendell White had 12 points and Hayato Kawashima matched White’s scoring total and handed out six assists, Masahiro Oguchi added 11, including 3 of 5 from long range, and Shuto Tawatari also put 11 points on the board.

Sunrockers 75, Evessa 72

In Tokyo, Josh Harrellson sank a pair of free throws with 14 seconds remaining, and Osaka failed to score before the final buzzer as Shibuya completed a two-game sweep.

Harrellson, a former University of Kentucky and NBA big man, had 22 points, seven rebounds and four steals. Another ex-NBA center, Robert Sacre, also had 22 points and hauled in eight boards for the Sunrockers (28-32), who endured an up-and-down season.

Morihisa Yamauchi dished out seven assists for the hosts, Leo Vendrame scored nine points and Kenta Hirose chipped in with seven points and four steals.

For the Evessa (24-36), Keith Benson had 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks and Shota Konno scored 13 points. Xavier Gibson and Takuya Hashimoto each had 10 points.

Albirex 81, Levanga 68

In Sapporo, Niigata took control in the third quarter, outscoring the hosts 31-15, to take a commanding lead into the final quarter.

The Albirex (28-31) led 67-45 after three quarters.

The teams will conclude their series on Monday in the final regular-season game scheduled this season.

Niigata’s scoring maestro Davante Gardner had 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting and pulled down 14 rebounds. Yuichi Ikeda had 11 points and Kei Igarashi and Lamont Hamilton added eight apiece. Keita Imamaura dished out a team-high five assists.

Dijon Thompson paced the Levanga (25-34) with 20 points and nine boards. Asahi Tajima scored 11 points and Ryota Sakurai had nine.

Hokkaido, which extended its losing streak to eight games, struggled at the free-throw line, making 14 of 24 shots.

Jets 85, Golden Kings 75

In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, a day after clinching the East Division title, the Jets received across-the-board production from several players and handed Ryukyu its fourth straight loss.

Leo Lyons paced Chiba with 18 points and eight rebounds and Kosuke Ishii buried 5 of 6 3s in a 16-point outing. Yuki Togashi scored 15 points and Gavin Edwards had 11. Tomokazu Abe and Ryumo Ono each registered four assists.

The Jets led 46-35 at halftime.

Former Chiba center Hilton Armstrong had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the West Division champion Golden Kings (42-18). Hassan Martin scored 13 points, Takatoshi Furukawa finished with nine, Kohei Ninomiya had eight and Ryuichi Kishimoto seven.

Ryukyu made only 4 of 25 3-point attempts.

Second-division update

Here are the results of Sunday’s B2 games:

Firebonds 8, Robots 83*

Fighting Eagles 111, Wat’s 81

Bambitious 76, Big Bulls 67

Dragonflies 105, Crane Thunders 72

Northern Happinets 94, Brave Warriors 76

Volters 86, Earthfriends 80

Five Arrows 86, Wyverns 68

*Fukushima ended Ibaraki’s 17-game winning streak.

The four-team B2 postseason qualifiers are: Akita (54-6), Nagoya (39-21), Fukuoka (47-13) and Kumamoto (41-19).