This time, the verdict was clear.
After a loss by the slimmest of margins on Saturday night, Levanga Hokkaido returned to action on Sunday afternoon and salvaged a series split with a comprehensive victory over Sunrockers Shibuya.
Hokkaido’s 76-57 decision at Aoyama Gakuin University Memorial Hall provided a vivid introduction to new Levanga coach Jose Neto’s frenetic pace on defense and aggressive read-and-react offense.
For the majority of the game, Hokkaido outplayed Shibuya at both ends of the floor. Canadian star Marc Trasolini sparked the visitors with 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists, three steals (one more than the entire Sunrockers team) and two blocks in 32-plus pulsating minutes.
Statistically, Levanga (2-2) had better final numbers than the Sunrockers in all key categories, including field-goal percentage (42.2 to 34.4), free-throw totals (Hokkaido: 19 of 26; Shibuya 9 of 14) and rebounds (44-40).
What’s more, the tricky Hokkaido defense, which switched from man-to-man to zone and utilized effective pressure for key stretches, confused Shibuya at times. As a result, the Sunrockers were rarely in sync on offense, and made too many costly mistakes (exhibit A: 18 assists, 13 turnovers. Their shooting struggles including 4 of 23 from 3-point range.
Conversely, the Levanga enjoyed a productive 40-minute offensive performance. It started with on-target passes: nine players had at least one assist, with six dishing out two or more. They accumulated 22 assists against a season-low seven turnovers.
Hokkaido, which lost 67-66 in the B. League series opener, established an early presence in the paint on offense, and that opened things up on the perimeter as well.
Neto commended his players for playing lockdown defense.
Holding Shibuya, “a good team,” to 57 points was impressive, he added.
“I believe that this (defense) is our identity, and the players are responsible for this, not the coaches,” Neto told reporters. “The players believe that on defense we can beat a good team like Shibuya.”
By halftime, Trasolini had 12 points and Spanish center David Doblas, the frequent recipient of quick passes into the post from all angles, had 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
The Sunrockers trailed 41-30 entering the third quarter. At that point, Robert Sacre (19 points) and Ryan Kelly (seven) were the only Shibuya players with more than one basket.
Shibuya’s offense clicked a bit more in the third quarter, with small forward Yusei Sugiura scoring five of his 11 points. But the Sunrockers faced a 59-46 deficit entering the final stanza that they were unable to overcome.
In addition to Trasolini’s big offensive game, Doblas had an efficient 21-point outing, making 9 of 16 shots. Asahi Tajima ignited the offense with 11 points and six assists. Ryota Sakurai and Ryohei Kawabe added six points apiece.
Neto observed that Doblas “today won the space (inside) and he must pay attention to the opponent’s defense, and it opened the (space) for us.”
Sacre finished with 21 points and 10 boards and Kelly, a Duke University alum, had 12 points and 12 rebounds.
In the first quarter, the teams traded baskets early on, and a Kelly layup gave Shibuya a 9-7 lead near the midway point. It was part of a 9-0 run that put the hosts ahead 16-7.
Trasolini then buried a 3-pointer to end the run and start a big scoring spurt for Hokkaido.
The Levanga closed out the first quarter on an 11-0 run, capped by two Trasolini free throws, to take an 18-16 advantage into the second stanza.
Doblas put his stamp on the second quarter, scoring 12 points. His inside hoop pushed the lead to 29-23, then a Doblas layup made it 31-24.
Sacre sank two free throws to trim the margin to 31-26 with 4:41 before halftime.
In some games, the plays seem to fall in place for some teams, while the other can’t catch a break.
This came to mind in the third quarter, when Kawabe caught the ball with perfect positioning under the hoop after Trasolini shot an air ball on a long jumper. With the shot clocking winding down and with his back to the basket, Kawabe shot the ball just before the shot clock expired. That gave Hokkaido a 55-46 lead with less than two minutes left in the quarter.
Entering the game, Trasolini admitted that “it was frustrating last night to be so close like that. I thought we won the game. … It was a tough way to lose, but we came out today knowing we didn’t want it to be that close, and we dominated the game almost from the start.”
He added: “So that was our mindset. We wanted to control the game, and not leave it to a last-second chance.”
Sunrockers coach Geoffrey Katsuhisa said his team is working to build a more fierce defense this season. He credited Hokkaido for playing an aggressive game and setting the tone with its defense.
Looking back on the game and the series as a whole, Kelly said, “I think we saw some good, saw some bad (from Shibuya). (Hokkaido) was a team that really, I think, mucked it up, and was very physical with us today and yesterday and for us that physicality really as soon as we got over halfcourt caused some trouble for us. And that’s something that we’re going to have to kind of work through…”
Shibuya’s next measuring stick for its defense will arrive in a hurry. The Sunrockers return to action on Wednesday night at 7:05 against the visiting Akita Northern Happinets in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward. On the same evening, Hokkaido is scheduled to host Chiba Jets Funabashi.
Alvark 65, SeaHorses 55
In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Tokyo outscored the hosts 24-11 in the pivotal third quarter and completed a two-game sweep.
Milko Bjelica led the Alvark (4-0) with 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Alex Kirk contributed 13 points, seven boards and three blocks, while Seiya Ando and Yudai Baba added eight and seven points, respectively.
The SeaHorses (0-4) trailed 52-35 entering the final quarter.
Newcomer Grant Jerrett led Mikawa with 26 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. Teammate Masaaki Morikawa poured in 10 points.
The hosts were held to 35.1 percent shooting from the floor, and veteran star Kosuke Kanamaru had zero points, missing all six of his shots.
SeaHorses bench boss Kimikazu Suzuki told reporters after the game that his team made too many mistakes, but praised its defending overall.
Jets 73, NeoPhoenix 55
In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, Gavin Edwards scored 17 points and snared 14 rebounds to help the Jets beat San-en for the second consecutive day.
Michael Parker finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks and Yuki Togashi had 15 points with six assists for Chiba (2-2). Shigehiro Taguchi contributed 10 points.
The Jets were ahead 27-14 after the first quarter.
William McDonald was the high scorer for the NeoPhoenix (1-3) with 18 points. He also hauled in nine rebounds. Shuto Tawatari added 10 points, Robert Dozier had eight points and eight boards and Atsuya Ota supplied six points and seven rebounds.
Here are the results of Sunday’s second-division games:
Samuraiz 97, Susanoo Magic 91
Crane Thunders 70, 89ers 48
Dragonflies 88, Five Arrows 78
Wyverns 95, Wat’s 93
Earthfriends 81, Fighting Eagles 79
Brave Warriors 86, Bambitious 60
Volters 89, Storks 82
Robots 88, Orange Vikings 82