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Jets, Alvark advance to B. League Championship final

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Chiba Jets Funabashi were tough on defense, applying additional pressure at key moments in the fourth quarter.

The Jets were confident on offense, making key baskets when they needed them.

The Jets, only in business since joining the now-disbanded bj-league for the 2011-12 campaign as an expansion franchise, made history on Sunday, reaching the B. League Championship final. The verdict was locked up at 6:06 p.m. when Game 2 of their semifinal series ended this way: Jets 72, Ryukyu Golden Kings 64.

The celebration at Funabashi Arena was festive. After all, the overwhelming majority of the 5,210 spectators at the Jets’ home gym was dressed in red, Chiba’s trademark color.

Chiba will meet the Alvark Tokyo, a member of Japan basketball’s old guard from the JBL days, in the title game on Saturday at Yokohama Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 2:05 p.m.

Utilizing his polished low-post moves, captain Ryumo Ono’s post-up bank shot gave Chiba its largest lead of the game, 64-58, with 5:08 left in the fourth quarter.

Ono extended the margin to 66-58 on another baseline move, spinning and attacking the defense for a layup as the fans roared with delight. That capped a pivotal 11-0 spurt for the Jets.

Leo Lyons, a University of Missouri alum, later said the game-changing run came at the perfect time: to seize momentum from the Kings.

Veteran guard Ryuichi Kishimoto missed two free throws with 2:33 left as the Kings failed to trim their six-point deficit at a critical moment in the game.

But Kishimoto, replacing teammate Takumi Ishizaki at the line after the latter left the game following a collision with Chiba star Yuki Togashi, sank two foul shots with 1:21 remaining, cutting it to 67-62.

Lyons then threw away a pass, and determined rookie forward Hassan Martin, a thorn in the Jets’ side from start to finish, made it a 67-64 game on an inside move with 48 seconds left. But Lyons redeemed himself on Chiba’s next possession, knocking down a 3-pointer from the left wing for a 70-64 Chiba advantage.

“That was a big shot,” Lyons said later. “I knew how much the fans wanted to win. And a sense of urgency kicked in.”

Lyons said he was mad for making the turnover.

“I feel great,” he said of reaching the final. “This team has been working very hard to make the championship.”

He continued: “(We) fight adversity all the time. That’s what you’ve got to do to win — fight.”

Kishimoto missed a 3 on Ryukyu’s next possession, and Lyons drained two free throws with 9.5 seconds left for the game’s final points.

Jets coach Atsushi Ono and assistant coach Calvin Oldham gave fans high-fives as they walked to the locker room after the game, joining their players in celebration as confetti sailed through the air.

Lyons scored a team-best 17 points, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. Influential forward Michael Parker contributed 16 points, 11 rebounds and four steals in 33-plus minutes. Togashi had an eight-point, eight-assist, three-steal performance, Gavin Edwards scored 12 points, pulled down six rebounds and blocked two shots, with Ono scoring nine points and handing out six assists.

Parker said, “It was a good game, a hard-fought game, and it came down to a couple of shots.”

Looking ahead to next week’s encounter with Tokyo, Parker said, “It’s 40 minutes for the championship. You’ve just got to go for it. (And) it just proves that our division (East) is strong.”

“It’s a pity,” Kishimoto said of the game’s outcome, summing up the end of Ryukyu’s title hopes.

Despite shooting 38.7 percent from the field, Chiba made big plays from start to finish and stayed poised throughout. The Jets registered 21 assists and only nine turnovers. They made 19 of 24 foul shots.

Martin paced the Golden Kings (50-14 overall) with 20 points on 5-for-14 shooting. The University of Rhode Island alum was 10-for-10 at the line. Naoki Tashiro added 12 points, Ira Brown had nine points, nine rebounds and five assists, while Hilton Armstrong scored eight points and Kishimoto contributed seven with six assists.

Ryukyu was 0-for-5 on 3s in the fourth quarter, a 10-minute stretch in which it only scored eight points.

For Chiba (50-15), home-court advantage played a decisive role in series victories over the Kawasaki Brave Thunders (in the quarterfinals) and Golden Kings in the semifinals, several players told reporters after the game.

Ryukyu coach Norio Sassa said Ono was “very effective” in Game 2.

He said he was pleased with his team’s effort during a wide-ranging interview with reporters after the game, saying his players gave their all. “They worked extremely hard,” he added.

Sassa, in his first season in charge, lamented his team’s struggles from 3-point range (5 of 21). He said the Kings didn’t make enough 3s.

Sassa’s coaching counterpart, Atsushi Ono, praised his players for their energy and defensive intensity. He pointed to “tough rebounds and (getting) loose balls” as key plays to pull out the win. He cited fourth-quarter foul trouble — Lyons, Edwards and Parker finished the game with four fouls — as a sign of the team’s discipline and teamwork to stick with the game plan despite the situation.

Tashiro said he was impressed with Parker’s overall impact on the game, calling him a “dangerous player” due to his rebounding and inside strength.

Late in the third quarter, Martin sank a pair of free throws to give Ryukyu a 52-51 lead.

Seconds later, Togashi drifted to the left baseline and sank a pull-up jumper to make it 53-52, Chiba. Togashi, who played high school ball at Montrose Christian Academy in Maryland before turning pro, then intercepted a pass and raced to the other end of the court for a layup, giving Chiba a three-point lead.

As the quarter came to a close, Kishimoto exhibited his dazzling ball handling skills producing several textbook crossover dribbles before burying a buzzer-beating jumper to conclude an exciting 10-minute showcase. His bucket gave the Golden Kings a 56-55 lead.

Up to that point in the game, neither team led by more than four points.

Lyons had four fouls entering the fourth. He continued to play aggressive basketball at both ends of the court in the fourth.

It was knotted at 14-14 after the first quarter, a 10-minute spectacle of tight defense, free-flowing offense and a bunch of players making a few highlight reel plays. There wasn’t one singular star who overwhelmed the proceedings from the get-go. But Brown had seven of Ryukyu’s 14 first-quarter points.

Overall, though, both teams were cold on offense in the early going. The Jets shot 21.1 percent (4 of 19) in the opening quarter. The Kings made 35.3 percent of their attempts.

The back-and-forth nature of the contest continued into the second quarter.

Lyons energized the Chiba offense with laser beam-like 3-point rainbow shots and attack-the-basket layups. He scored 10 points in the second stanza.

A Lyons 3 put the Jets ahead 29-27 before a Ryukyu timeout with 4:06 left in the second quarter.

Moments later, Armstrong gave the Kings a 34-31 advantage. Parker cut it to 34-33 on a layup and tied it by making the second of two free throws at the 43.9-second mark.

Togashi made a running, high-bouncing layup on the Jets’ final possession of the first half, giving them a 36-34 lead at the break.

Martin was Ryukyu’s leading scorer in the opening half, which featured five ties and nine lead changes. Lyons and Parker scored 12 and 10 points, respectively.

On Saturday, the Jets defeated the Kings 74-61.

Alvark 73, SeaHorses 71 (OT, Game 2)

In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Tokyo blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, but recovered in overtime, edging Central Division champion Mikawa and earning a trip to the final in bench boss Luka Pavicevic’s first season at the helm.

SeaHorses star Makoto Hiejima sank a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in the fourth, tying it at 64-64 and forcing OT.

With 1:39 to play in the bonus period, Kosuke Kanamaru drained a 3 to give the hosts a 71-70 lead. Tokyo answered with a big bucket, getting a dunk from center Alex Kirk on a pass from Genki Kojima. That put the Alvark ahead 72-71 with 1:23 left.

Tokyo’s Zack Baranski missed one free throw, but made the other with 18 seconds remaining in OT to account for the final score.

Daiki Tanaka paced the Alvark (48-16 overall) with 26 points, Yudai Baba scored 12, Kirk had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Kojima contributed nine points and five assists. Joji Takeuchi made three steals.

Tokyo led 60-44 with 7:47 to go in the fourth.

Mikawa chipped away at the lead, and a 10-0 spurt capped by an Isaac Butts inside jumper pulled the SeaHorses within 64-60. That set the stage for Hiejima’s dramatic 3. Tanaka missed a shot with 1 second left in the quarter.

Kanamaru led the SeaHorses with 23 points on 6-for-20 shooting, but made 9 of 9 free throws. Hiejima added 14 points with the eight rebounds and Butts corralled 15 rebounds.

In OT, five Alvark players put points on the board. On the other hand, Kanamaru scored five of the SeaHorses’ seven points.

Mikawa (50-14) was held to 35.4 percent shooting from the floor.

The hosts committed 17 turnovers, while the Alvark had 10.

On Saturday, Tokyo triumphed 69-65 in overtime in Game 1.

B2 playoff final

Rizing Zephyr 82, Northern Happinets 73 (Game 2)

Rizing Zephyr 15, Northern Happinets 12 (Game 3, mini-game tiebreaker)

In Akita, Fukuoka’s rise in the B. League hierarchical structure is complete. The Rizing Zephyr claimed the B2 title, bragging rights and promotion to B1 a year after making the jump from B3 to B2.

Coach Ryuji Kawai’s club triumphed in a must-win Game 2 to force the mini-game tiebreaker, then spoiled Akita’s fairy-tale season with another victory.

Fukuoka had ended Akita’s 22-game win streak on April 1. On Sunday, they gave the hosts a run for their money and came out on top twice.

In Game 2, veteran star Josh Peppers scored 19 points, Eric Jacobsen had 17, Daisuke Kobayashi poured in 15 and Faye Pape Mour chipped in with 14 points and rebounds for the Rizing Zephyr (51-14 overall). The visitors sank 22 of 28 foul shots.

For Akita (57-8), Keisuke Takabatake had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting. Kadeem Coleby scored 12 and Nigel Spikes 11. The hosts made 38 percent of their shots from the floor. They were 7 of 14 at the foul line.

In Game 3, Peppers and Jacobsen each had four points and Kobayashi handed out two assists for Fukuoka.

Akita led 7-6 after the first 5-minute half in the mini-game.