Perhaps the biggest compliment a team can receive after a game was uttered on Sunday afternoon.
Toyama Grouses bench boss Don Beck called the Alvark Tokyo “the best-conditioned team” in the B. League.
Those words were spoken after an impressive performance: The defending champion Alvark’s tenacious defense and fast-paced offense showcased their tip-top physical fitness in an 87-73 triumph over the visiting Grouses at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi.
With abundant energy and speed on display, all 10 Alvark players who stepped onto the court scored points in the series finale.
Alex Kirk and Milko Bjelica shared the team lead in points (18). Bjelica, who hails from Montenegro, scored 16 second-half points with inside and outside displays of veteran savvy and skills as the hosts began to pull away.
Yudai Baba spearheaded the bench unit with 12 points and four assists. Daiki Tanaka finished with nine points and six assists, slicing his way past Toyama defenders and setting up his teammates for good looks, while Joji Takeuchi scored eight points.
Tokyo forward Zack Baranski admitted afterward that former Alvark head coach Beck’s high praise is something he and his teammates hold in high regard.
“That’s correct,” Baranski said of Beck’s assessment, “because we practice the most, I mean, from, I guess, Aug. 6 when we started. . . .We’ve had the most practices. We’ve run. We’ve trained. . . . We’ve just done everything we can to get better as a team.”
He continued: “We just have that attitude that we’ve done what we need to do to have the best physical (team) in the league. I think if you ask anyone on our team, they would say the same thing.”
How pleasing is it for that high praise to be bestowed on the Alvark? Baranski was asked.
He responded by saying, “It sure does, especially coming from another coach, one of my former coaches . . . and for him saying that it just gives me more confidence and lets me know that I’ve been doing the right thing.”
Baranski and fellow reserve Takumi Saito each had seven points, with Saito helping fill the void with veteran point guard Genki Kojima sidelined with an injury. Saito dished out four assists, as did Bjelica.
Saito, who is listed as Tokyo’s third point guard behind Seiya Ando and Kojima, confirmed that his solid performance on Sunday boosted his confidence.
Saito said Alvark coach Luka Pavicevic, a former college and pro point guard, is an ideal mentor for him because he dishes out “valuable and important details” about playing the position. He said he’s happy to have Pavicevic instructing him on how to make improvements at the position.
Speaking to reporters, Saito also said that he’s “pleased to contribute” to the team’s back-to-back victories over the weekend.
Indeed, it was far from a one-man effort for the Alvark (30-12) on Sunday.
Active on defense and in excellent position repeatedly to contest shots, Kirk registered a game-best three blocks.
Imposing center Joshua Smith, who weighs 138 kg and constantly commands double teams in the low post, led the Grouses with 23 points and 11 rebounds (seven offensive boards). Leo Lyons scored 14 points and Yuto Otsuka had nine.
Tokyo had its best offensive stretch of the game to close out the third stanza, when it used a 9-0 spurt to pull ahead 65-50 on a Bjelica 3-pointer from the left side.
The Grouses trailed by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter.
Toyama (21-21) trailed 42-39 at halftime, with Smith keeping his club within striking distance. He attempted 10 of his team’s 21 2-point shots in the opening half and made five of them. He led all first-half scorers with 12 points, followed by Tanaka, who had nine.
For the full 40 minutes, the Grouses shot 42.9 percent overall; the Alvark made 56.5 percent, including 27 of 41 from inside the 3-point arc.
After the game, Beck summed up the outcome this way: “Toyota (the Alvark) had a very good game again today. They were definitely ready to play from the beginning of the game. They had a great first quarter (and led 28-21 after 10 minutes). I like the way we played to get back into the game and had it fairly close at halftime.
“The third quarter hurt us again. . . . We struggled with our scoring. Toyota’s a great defensive team, they really are.”
As the Alvark continue to push for a higher seed for the playoffs, Pavicevic declared that the weekend series featured two must-win games for his club after the two-week break due to the FIBA World Cup qualifiers. (Japan earned a spot in this summer’s tournament.) Pavicevic insisted that his team had to grind for the full 40 minutes and commended his players for their effort and focus.
Defense was the key to victory, he said while calling it a challenge to maintain top-level defense against the Grouses.
“It’s difficult to stop Toyama,” he said of the Grouses’ high-powered offense, “because they have a strong transition (game), they have a strong inside game, they have good shooters, they have a one-on-one player in Lyons, and they have an offensive rebounder. That’s why they are actually contending for playoff position, even though there are teams that are with better budgets . . .”
Pavicevic added: “I think that our team had a great two wins in a row after being away for three weeks and after being separated (from) the national team guys and Genki, who is injured. . .”
Albirex BB 106, Diamond Dolphins 100 (OT)
In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, scoring maestro Davante Gardner’s 37-point, 15-rebound effort helped carry the hosts past Nagoya in overtime.
Lamont Hamilton contributed 20 points and 10 boards for the Albirex (31-11), who completed a series sweep. Kei Igarashi added 20 points and five assists and Yuichi Ikeda poured in 14 points, including four 3s.
Craig Brackins paced the Diamond Dolphins (22-20) with 22 points and 14 boards. Tenketsu Harimoto scored 18 points and Hilton Armstrong and Shuto Ando each had 16.
Brex 82, NeoPhoenix 66
In Hamamatsu, Tochigi dominated the third quarter and pulled away to complete a weekend sweep of San-en. MVP candidate Ryan Rossiter led the Brex (34-8) with 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. Jeff Gibbs had 14 points and seven boards, while Makoto Hiejima chipped in with 12 points.
Tochigi outrebounded the hosts 48-33 and outscored them 29-14 in the third.
Evessa 88, Northern Happinets 73
In Yurihonjo, Akita Prefecture, Josh Harrellson’s double-double and Hirotaka Yoshii’s 16-point outing sparked Osaka in a bounce-back victory over the hosts.
Harrellson led the way with 23 points and 16 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Faye Pape Mour finished with 14 points and Shota Konno added 11 for the Evessa (16-26).
Daichi Shinoyama, Justin Keenan and Kadeem Coleby all scored 16 points for the Happinets (14-28).
Golden Kings 88, Levanga 54
In Okinawa City, Ryukyu held Hokkaido to 34 percent shooting and coasted to victory, its second in as many days.
Kevin Jones had 20 points and 12 rebounds for the Golden Kings (27-15). Ryuichi Kishimoto provided 17 points, including five 3-pointers, and seven assists, while Takatoshi Furukawa and Jeff Ayres both scored 13 points.
For the Levanga (10-32), Byron Mullens had a team-high 17 points.
Brave Thunders 85, Sunrockers 76
In Kawasaki, the hosts overcame a 66-55 deficit after three quarters by dominating the final stanza. Nick Fazekas delivered a 24-point, 14-rebound performance for the Brave Thunders (26-16), Shane Edwards scored 16 points and Yuma Fujii had 13. Ryusei Shinoyama handed out five assists.
Ryan Kelly had 26 points and 16 boards for Shibuya (18-24) and Robert Sacre contributed 23 points. Guard Leo Vendrame struggled to put points on the board, finishing 1-for-10 from the floor and three total points.
Hannaryz 90, Lakestars 85
In Kyoto, center David Simon led the hosts with 22 points and swatted three shots for good measure as coach Honoo Hamaguchi’s club wrapped up a weekend sweep of Kansai rival Shiga. Julian Mavunga also shined (18 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) for the Hannaryz (24-18). Kevin Hareyama had 12 points and Tatsuya Ito scored 10 and made five steals.
For the Lakestars (8-32), Allen Durham had 28 points, 16 rebounds and six assists. Henry Walker added 26 points and Koyo Takahashi had 18.
Jets 87, Rizing Zephyr 64
In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, the title-chasing Jets limited Fukuoka to four second-quarter points, and as a result, took a 20-point advantage into halftime.
Michael Parker scored 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting and pulled down 13 boards for Chiba (35-7) and teammate Yuki Togashi poured in 18 points. Josh Duncan and Gavin Edwards added 16 and 13 points, respectively, as the hosts picked up a weekend sweep.
Marqus Blakely led the Rizing Zephyr (10-32) with 23 points and Dexter Pittman had 14. Fukuoka missed 17 of 19 3-pointers.
B-Corsairs 93, SeaHorses 83
In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, Yokohama outscored the hosts 29-11 in the final quarter and avenged Saturday’s loss to Mikawa.
Yokohama’s Takuya Kawamura rang up 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting, including five 3s. Masashi Hosoya also buried five 3s and had 19 total points, with Arthur Stepheson chipping in with 15 points and 19 rebounds. Brandon Costner added 22 points for the B-Corsairs (12-30).
Kennedy Meeks led the SeaHorses (23-19) with 21 points along with 11 rebounds and six assists. J.R. Sakuragi had 18 points, 11 boards and five assists, with Takanobu Nishikawa scoring 17 points and Yuta Okada supplying 15 points and seven assists.
Mikawa made 6 of 13 foul shots.