B. League champions in the first two seasons of the upstart circuit’s existence, the Tochigi Brex and Alvark Tokyo, have a fierce rivalry and display immense pride whenever they step onto the basketball court.
The latter attribute is perhaps at its peak when they face each other.
In Sunday’s series finale, the Brex made decisive plays down the stretch and the Alvark squandered a few key chances to win the game, resulting in a 63-62 Brex victory which gave the visitors a bounce-back win after getting thrashed (79-62) in Saturday’s opener at Komazawa Olympic Park Gymnasium.
Tochigi (25-6) made three clutch baskets that helped determine the final outcome.
With 2:13 to play, Ryan Rossiter, who scored 14 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth quarter, nailed a long step-back 3-pointer from the right wing. That tied it at 57-57.
With 1:35 remaining, Kosuke Takeuchi converted a layup to make it 59-57.
With 15 seconds left, Yusuke Endo knocked down a straight-away 3-pointer to increase the visitors’ advantage to 62-57.
The Alvark still had a hope and a prayer to win the game. After Tokyo coach Luka Pavicevic called a timeout, the inbound pass went to dazzling playmaker Daiki Tanaka, who finished with 11 points and buried a 3-pointer with 8 seconds showing on the game clock.
That set the stage for a dramatic finish.
Rossiter was fouled with 5.2 seconds remaining. He missed the first of two foul shots. The second attempt sank through the net, meaning the Alvark needed a 3-pointer to tie it and force overtime.
Tokyo’s Zack Baranski missed a potential game-tying 3 from the right corner with 3 seconds left, then Alex Kirk grabbed the offensive rebound. Kirk passed the ball back outside to Milko Bjelica near the left baseline.
Just before time expired, Bjelica attempted a long jumper from just inside the 3-point arc. He nailed the shot, accounting for the final score. He spoke about his positioning for the final shot in a post-game interview.
“When I saw that Alex was receiving the ball (on the rebound),” he said, “I tried to back up a couple of steps, but at that moment when he passed the ball, I was exactly probably on the line, so I couldn’t continue and there was not so much time. I was not sure whether I was outside or inside because in this moment at the speed I was just looking to shoot in the time (that was left).”
Bjelica praised his foes for stepping up in the final quarter.
“In the fourth quarter, they scored on some tough shots,” said Bjelica, “and we didn’t make good solutions from the other side. We missed the shots and I think that’s the main reason (for the defeat). I think we played great defense; we allowed our opponent to score 63 points. … And I think we lacked a couple of shots.”
Brex coach Ryuzo Anzai credited his players for maintaining their poise down the stretch. He said his team made some defensive adjustments after Saturday’s defeat, looking closely at its scouting reports to make those adjustments.
Tochigi point guard Seiji Ikaruga summed up the euphoria of victory this way: “It was good to be able to avenge yesterday’s crushing defeat.”
Endo had 14 points and four assists and teammate Hironori Watanabe scored nine points, with Andrew Naymick adding seven. Ikaruga chipped in with six points and three assists on a day when do-it-all forward Jeff Gibbs was sidelined with an injury.
Looking back on his performance, Rossiter said: “I had a frustrating situation in the first three quarters with the performance of my own offense, but I had a conversation on the bench with (injured captain) Yuta (Tabuse).” Tabuse encouraged Rossiter to keep sticking with his game, the latter revealed to reporters.
“Because I got advice,” Rossiter stated, “I was fighting with the consciousness of attacking the basket as usual.”
For the Alvark, Kirk scored 14 points and Yudai Baba added 10. Genki Kojima had nine points and Seiya Ando and Joji Takeuchi each scored eight. Ando also handed out six assists.
Pavicevic described it as “an important game here in Komazawa,” noting the tight race in the East Division, which is led by the Chiba Jets Funabashi.
“Like all the second games, it was a tough one, and I think even though we had an edge on the game,” added Pavicevic, “and maybe the longest period of time, I think that it was visible that Tochigi was a few steps behind but ready to catch up.”
On facing Tochigi, he continued: “Even though we had a 10-point (lead) at some points, I explained to my players that this is all about possessions — play by play until the end of the game. At the end, it’s very clear that in a difficult game like this we needed to keep the level of our defense the way we wanted and then not allow Tochigi to score so many important baskets…”
Tokyo led 17-13 after the first quarter, 33-26 at halftime and 44-37 entering the fourth quarter, but never delivered the knockout punch to end Tochigi’s comeback hopes.
In the final quarter, veterans Rossiter and Endo carried the Brex offense, with Rossiter nailing a trio of 3-pointers in the closing stanza (he made four overall), and Endo (who also sank four 3s) converting two long-range shots.
Statistically, the teams were close in several categories, including field goals (Tochigi made 23; Tokyo 22), successful 3-poin attempts (10 apiece), rebounds (Tochigi had a 39-36 edge), turnovers (Tokyo had 10; Tochigi nine) and shooting percentage (Tochigi 39.7; Tokyo 36.1).
In Thursday’s Emperor’s Cup quarterfinals, the Brex and Sunrockers Shibuya will square off at 12:15 p.m., while the Alvark and SeaHorses Mikawa are scheduled to meet at 4:45 p.m.
Brave Thunders 72, Northern Happinets 58
In Kawasaki, the hosts started strong and took a 40-22 lead into the intermission en route to their second victory of the weekend over Akita.
Nick Fazekas sparked the Brave Thunders (19-12) with 22 points and pulled down eight boards. Yuma Fujii had 14 points and Shane Edwards and Ryusei Shinoyama both scored 11.
Daichi Shimoyama led the Happinets with 16 points and Kadeem Coleby provided 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Evessa 61, Golden Kings 53
In Okinawa City, Rei Goda buried five 3-point attempts and Osaka earned a bounce-back victory over Ryukyu.
Goda paced the Evessa (14-17) with 19 points. Xavier Gibson finished with 12 points and Shota Konno scored nine.
Osaka led 29-26 at halftime.
Takatoshi Furukawa had 17 points and Jeff Ayres contributed 12 and eight rebounds for the Golden Kings (22-9), who shot 20-for-60 from the floor. Ryuichi Kishimoto had 10 points, while Narito Namizato handed out seven assists.
NeoPhoenix 85, Rizing Zephyr 66
In Fukuoka, Josh Childress put 22 points on the board and William McDonald had a 20-point, 15-rebound performance as San-en defeated the hosts for the second time in as many days.
Floor leader Tatsuya Suzuki scored 14 points and chalked up eight assists for the NeoPhoenix (12-19).
Tenyoku You had 18 points to lead the Rizing Zephyr (8-23). Benjamin Lawson chipped in with 15 points and 16 rebounds and Eric Jacobsen had 12 and 10 to also notch a double-double.
Grouses 94, Sunrockers 87
In Toyama, center Joshua Smith dominated inside to guide the Grouses past Shibuya, giving coach Don Beck’s club a weekend sweep.
Smith scored 29 points on 11-for-14 shooting and snared 14 rebounds. Leo Lyons added 20 points and Naoki Uto had 18 for Toyama (18-13).
Ryan Kelly paced the Sunrockers (13-18) with 34 points and 10 rebounds. Leo Vendrame had 16 points and seven assists with five turnovers.
Albirex BB 90, Hannaryz 86
In Kyoto, MVP candidate Davante Gardner delivered a 34-point, 20-rebound, five-assist effort as Niigata edged the hosts for its fifth consecutive victory.
Albirex forward Lamont Hamilton poured in 19 points and collected 13 rebounds, while Shinsuke Kashiwagi drained four 3s in an 18-point effort.
Niigata (21-10 overall) improved to 10-6 on the road.
Hannaryz star Julian Mavunga nearly notched a triple-double (28 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists). David Simon finished with 22 points and pulled down nine boards and teammate Masaharu Kataoka scored 15 points for Kyoto (15-16).
Jets 97, Lakestars 89
In Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, a balanced scoring attack helped push Chiba past the struggling Lakestars.
The Jets (26-5) extended their winning streak to eight.
Michael Parker had 25 points and 11 rebounds for Chiba, with frontcourt mate Gavin Edwards supplying 18 points, 10 boards and five assists. Yuki Togashi had 11 points and seven assists and Kosuke Ishii matched Togashi’s scoring total.
For Shiga (6-25), Marqus Blakely had 22 points and seven assists. Yusuke Karino scored 20 points with seven helpers and Gani Lawal added 19 points and corralled 13 rebounds.
The Lakestars lost their sixth in a row.
B-Corsairs 73, Diamond Dolphins 68
In Yokohama, newcomer Brandon Costner energized the hosts, scoring 28 points and nine assists as they salvaged a weekend split with Nagoya.
Takuya Kawamura added 24 points for Yokohama (8-23).
Shuto Ando led the Diamond Dolphins (17-14), with Takaya Sasayama and Craig Brackins both scoring 13 points. Markeith Cummings added 12 points and 12 boards.
Nagoya hurt its cause with 17 turnovers.