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Jets outlast Brave Thunders in mini-game tiebreaker to reach B. League Championship semifinals

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

A strong bond — really unflappable team chemistry — has carried the Chiba Jets Funabashi to great heights this season.

The Jets aren’t finished yet.

They soared even higher on Sunday afternoon after first stumbling, losing Game 2 of their B. League Championship quarterfinal series to the Kawasaki Brave Thunders 71-61 at Funabashi Arena.

Then the metaphorical page was turned, and after a 20-minute break, both teams were back on the court at 4:28 p.m. before a packed house to settle the matter: determining which team would advance to the semis.

It was decided in the 10-minute mini-game tiebreaker, a two-period contest known as Game 3. The Jets won that one, 22-15 after jumping in front 14-6 in the opening half.

Chiba star Yuki Togashi acknowledged that the team’s camaraderie played a big part in their bounce-back triumph after a subpar performance in Game 2.

“We have trust in Michael Parker. We have trust in Leo Lyons,” said Togashi, who scored seven points in the mini-game, second on the club behind center Gavin Edwards, who had eight.

“We have trust in each other.”

Next weekend, the SeaHorses Mikawa play host to the Alvark Tokyo and Chiba faces the visiting Ryukyu Golden Kings in the two semifinal series.

Edwards said fierce determination guided the Jets to the playoff semifinals. They talked about the task at hand during the break between games.

“We basically just said, ‘this is it.’ We didn’t play this hard for 60 games to get knocked out in the first round,” Edwards revealed, “to play so well this whole year to not achieve our ultimate goal. So we just said we have to put everything on the line and just finish it strong.”

Trust and a hot start fueled the Jets in Game 3. They led, or held a share of the lead, from start to finish, though Kawasaki tied it up at 2-2, 4-4 and 6-6.

Former University of Connecticut big man Edwards, showcasing his repertoire of impressive low-post moves, scored a layup for the first points of mini-game. Grabbing a rebound to prolong Chiba’s time on offense, he scored on a putback moments later to make it 4-2.

Kosuke Ishii buried a jumper from the right baseline to put the Jets ahead 8-6. In the final minute of the opening half, Lyons buried a 3-point jumper from the right wing. After Kawasaki forward Josh Davis was called for an offensive foul, the ball wound up in Togashi’s hands and he knocked down a pivotal pull-up 3 to give the hosts the aforementioned 14-6 advantage.

In the second half, Takahiro Kurihara was fouled by Ryumo Ono while attempting a 3-pointer. Kurihara capitalized on the opportunity, making all three foul shots to cut the lead to 14-9 with 4:40 left. And Nick Fazekas, the reigning regular-season MVP, made a runner in the lane to pull the Brave Thunders to within 14-11.

Edwards converted a layup with about 2:40 to play and Yuma Fujii followed suit with a layup for Kawasaki, trimming the lead to 16-13.

A Chiba turnover was followed by Fazekas drawing a foul and stepping to the line for a pair of shots. He made them both, and it was a 16-15 game near the 1:30 mark.

Togashi delighted the mostly partisan home crowd, featuring 5,108 spectators, including a vocal band of Brave Thunders supporters, with a driving layup. He attacked the basket, moving from the left baseline toward the hoop. That made it 18-15, and a timeout followed with 24.9 seconds left.

The Brave Thunders failed to score again.

“It’s a pity that we lost,” Kawasaki bench boss Takayuki Kita said before commending his opponent.

“Chiba is an excellent team,” he added.

A day earlier, the Jets (48-15), East Division champs this season, pounced on the Brave Thunders, winning 87-65 in Game 1. That set the stage for a must-win scenario for the visitors to even be in a position to possibly advance.

In Game 2, a back-and-forth opening quarter featured both teams exhibiting a wide range of offensive plays. Buoyed by fast passes, the East rivals generated good 3-point looks numerous times.

Parker had 10 first-quarter points to lead all scorers, with Fujii and Fazekas putting eight and seven on the board, respectively.

Chiba was 2-for-9 on 3s in the opening quarter, a far cry from the Jets’ 15-for-26 output from long range in Game 1.

Fazekas’ three straight baskets in the second quarter gave the visitors a 31-25 lead near the midway point of the quarter. After Naoto Tsuji hit the second of two foul shots, Fazekas scored another two points on a runner from the baseline.

At halftime, Kawasaki (42-21) led 38-32.

Fazekas had carried his club to that point, scoring 17 first-half points on 7-for-8 shooting and hauling in nine rebounds.

Entering the fourth quarter, Chiba trailed 54-45.

“In the last game, they played really well,” Davis said of the Jets.

Fazekas led all scorers with 32 points on 12-for-16 shooting in Game 2 with 12 rebounds and six assists in a performance as inspiring as it was impressive. Fujii and Davis added 13 and 10 points, respectively. Davis also grabbed 10 rebounds.

Parker was Chiba’s top scorer with 22 points and 12 rebounds as well and Edwards had 11 points. Lyon and Ono finished with nine and eight points, respectively. The Jets couldn’t get their perimeter offense going, making only 6 of 28 3s.

The Brave Thunders were active and quick on defense. Unlike in Game 1, Kita noted, his squad had a solid performance while playing help-side defense.

Jets coach Atsushi Ono, though visibly drained emotionally after the roller-coaster day, said the tiebreaker triumph gave his team a “good feeling.” He noted that the heated duel with Kawasaki showcased a strong rivalry. “They are a great team,” the coach added.

Looking back on the Jets’ uneven performance in Game 2, Togashi admitted it “wasn’t good enough.”

“It’s difficult to reset in 20 minutes,” Kita told reporters, describing the physical and emotion toll of a must-win game with only a 20-minute break before resuming the quest to win the series.

For Fazekas, the raw emotion of losing couldn’t be hidden.

“Obviously, (I’m) down and out,” he said, describing his mood shortly after the team’s season-ending loss. “It’s not a very good feeling right now.”

Fazekas credited his teammates for making big plays and bouncing back in Game 2 to force the tiebreaker after a dismal Game 1 performance he described as “shooting ourselves in the foot.”

“Today, they happened to be better than us for 10 minutes,” were the words Fazekas used to describe the mini-game tiebreaker.

“Anyone can play anyone for 10 minutes,” he added. “The Kawasaki Brave Thunders can play with the Golden State Warriors for 10 minutes. . .”

SeaHorses 80, Brex 75

In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Central Division champion Mikawa played a strong first half and held off defending champion Tochigi down the stretch to win Game 2 and take the series without the drama of a mini-game tiebreaker.

Makoto Hiejima contributed 21 points and seven assists and Isaac Butts provided 16 points and 14 rebounds for the SeaHorses (50-12), who led 44-31 at halftime. Courtney Sims notched a double-double (12 points, 11 boards) and Kosuke Kanamaru and Ryoma Hashimoto each had nine points.

Miwaka limited Brex star Ryan Rossiter to five points on 2-for-13 shooting. He dished out eight assists.

Jeff Gibbs scored 23 points and pulled down 11 rebounds for Tochigi (34-28). Shuhei Kitagawa added 16 points and Seiji Ikaruga had 10, while Yuta Tabuse scored eight.

Golden Kings 66, Diamond Dolphins 62 (Game 2)

Golden Kings 17, Diamond Dolphins 12 (Game 3, tiebreaker)

In Okinawa City, Ryukyu outlasted Nagoya in the regularly scheduled Game 2 to force the mini-game tiebreaker. A victory in the tiebreaker propelled the Golden Kings to the semifinals while ending the Diamond Dolphins’ postseason.

In Game 2, the Kings (44-19) outscored the visitors 20-12 in the fourth quarter.

Hassan Martin led the way with 12 points and collected eight rebounds in Game 2, with Yutaro Suda adding 10 points and Takumi Ishizaki and Takatoshi Furukawa each putting nine on the board. Former NBA center Hilton Armstrong grabbed 14 rebounds.

For Nagoya (32-31), Justin Burrell had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Shuto Ando and Taito Nakahigashi scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Then, in the tiebreaker, the hosts picked up the pace in second 5-minute half, turning the tide after trailing 5-2 after the opening half concluded.

Furukawa spared the Kings with eight points in Game 3, including 4-for-4 at the foul line. Martin scored four points and Ishizaki, who made a big 3, added three. For the Diamond Dolphins, Burrell and Craig Brackins finished with five and three points, respectively.

Alvark 78, Hannaryz 69

In Tachikawa, balanced scoring carried Tokyo past short-handed Kyoto to win for the second straight day and book a spot in the semifinals.

Zack Baranski led the Alvark (43-19) with 12 points, with teammates Brendan Lane and Genki Kojima scoring nine apiece. Jawad Williams, Yudai Baba and Shohei Kikuchi all had eight points. Daiki Tanaka dished out six assists.

Tokyo led 45-30 entering the third quarter.

Tatsuya Ito poured in 18 points and Marcus Dove also had 18 points and snared 18 rebounds for the Hannaryz (34-28), who played without team leader Julian Mavunga and suspended big man Joshua Smith. Masaharu Kataoka and Yuya Nagayoshi each scored nine points. Nagayoshi did it the hard way, making 2 of 16 shots from the floor.

Conversely, the Alvark shot 50.8 percent, making 31 of 61 shots.

Second-division playoffs (semifinals)

Northern Happinets 99, Volters 65

In Akita, the hosts dominated the first half and completed a two-game sweep of Kumamoto.

The Volters trailed 51-36 at halftime.

Daichi Taniguchi had the hot hand for the Happinets (56-6), scoring 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting, including 6 of 8 from beyond the arc. Kadeem Coleby added 14 points, Shigehiro Taguchi had 12 and five assists, while Shota Onodera finished with 10 points. Ryosuke Shirahama added nine points and Yuto Otsuka dished out six assists.

Ryota Nakanishi paced the Volters (41-21) with 16 points, Shintaro Kobayashi scored 15 and Terrance Woodbury had 10.

Rizing Zephyr 94, Fighting Eagles 72

In Fukuoka, veteran star Josh Peppers’ 27-point, eight-rebound performance and Eric Jacobsen’s 21 points, seven boards and five assists energized the hosts in their second win in as many days over Nagoya.

Seven Fukuoka players finished with three or more assists, while Yuuki Kitamuki chipped in with nine points.

The Rizing Zephyr (49-13) took a 44-27 lead into halftime.

Josh Hawkinson scored 10 points and Kei Sugimoto and Yasuyuki Miyazaki both had nine for the Fighting Eagles (39-23).