Basketball / B. League

Brex dominate Sunrockers as postseason approaches

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

By their own high standards, the Tochigi Brex got off to a bit of a slow start in Sunday’s series finale against the Sunrockers Shibuya.

But coach Ryuzo Anzai’s title-chasing club seemed to flip a switch in the second quarter, transforming a close game into a rout.

Fueled by relentless defensive pressure, the Brex cruised to a 99-65 victory at Aoyama Gakuin University Memorial Hall. They improved to 42-16 in the regular season’s penultimate weekend.

Tochigi outscored the hosts 79-49 over the final three quarters.

Shibuya (27-31), which dropped its third straight game, never led.

After the game, Anzai said he was pleased with Tochigi’s overall performance.

“Team defense was the (big factor) today,” Anzai said, adding that he’s challenged his players to elevate their overall level of play as they continue to strive to capture the B. League title in May.

For the Brex, balanced scoring played a pivotal role in the victory. Seiji Ikaruga and Makoto Hiejima both scored 16 points, Jeff Gibbs, Kosuke Takeuchi and Hironori Watanabe all had 13 points, while Ryan Rossiter and Shuhei Kitagawa added nine apiece.

Rossiter grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds and dished out six assists. Frontcourt mate Gibbs also notched a double-double, pulling down 12 boards to go along with six assists. Hiejima, who was 3-for-3 on 3-point shots, handed out five assists, and was one of three Brex players with three steals (Ikaruga and Rossiter also had three apiece).

After establishing a scoring dominance in the paint in Saturday’s series (owning a 44-22 advantage), the Brex were even more efficient in that department a day later. Anzai’s charges had 42 points in the lane while holding the Sunrockers to 16.

Tomoya Hasegawa led Shibuya with 16 points, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Robert Sacre added 10 points and eight rebounds, Leo Vendrame chipped in with nine assists, while Ryan Kelly and Yusei Sugiura both had nine points.

Early in the second quarter, the Sunrockers pulled within 24-18 on a Takashi Ito jumper. What followed was a game-changing 16-3 spurt by the Brex.

Hiejima buried a short jumper from the right side and a Watanabe 3-pointer increased the visitors’ lead to 29-18.

Moments later, Hiejima stepped into the passing lane to make a steal and led a 2-on-1 fast break at the other end. He dished the ball to Takeuchi, who converted a layup. That made it 35-21. Rossiter canned a 3-pointer from the right wing as part of the big run to push the advantage to 38-21 near the midway point of the second quarter.

After a Shibuya miss, Hiejima distributed another crisp pass to the 206-cm Takeuchi, who made another layup for a 40-21 lead.

The Brex scored their first and last baskets of the first half on layups, getting easy deuces from Ikaruga and Hiejima.

The Sunrockers trailed 51-33 at halftime. At that point, the Brex had exhibited cohesive teamwork and an in-sync offense (eight players with four or more points), and that continued over the final two quarters.

Tochigi led by as many as 38 points in the second half.

Gibbs, who put his stamp on the game at both ends of the court, dribbled out the clock in the closing seconds as the Brex wrapped up their impressive victory.

On Saturday, the Brex won 72-61. Comparing the two games, Anzai said later that his club’s offensive performance was really good in the rematch.

After the series finale, he cited defensive communication and positioning as key factors in the Brex’s impressive effort, while concluding his club played tough defense in both games.

Anzai’s coaching counterpart, Tsutomu Isa of Shibuya, began his post-game news conference by saying his team committed too many turnovers. He also pointed out that his team yielded too many easy layups.

“We need to play better defense until the end,” Isa said.

He credited his opponent’s defense for its aggressive, on-ball pressure as a catalyst throughout the game.

The Brex exhibited a high energy level from start to finish, contributing to their 14 steals (the Sunrockers made just one). What’s more, Tochigi finished with 28 assists and five turnovers, while Shibuya had 20 assists and 18 turnovers. The Brex’s ultra-tough defense ignited the offense, which outscored the hosts 32-7 in points from takeaways.

Tochigi shot 55.2 percent from the field, including 10 of 17 on 3s; Shibuya finished at 39.6 percent shooting, including 11 of 27 from inside the 3-point arc.

Japan basketball icon Yuta Tabuse came off the bench for the Brex. He scored five points in 9-plus minutes.

Asked about Tabuse’s physical condition at this stage of the season after the veteran guard returned to the rotation in late March after missing 45 games due to a back injury, Anzai said that Tabuse is fine, that he’s able to contribute. The coach said he’s “confident” that Tabuse can perform now, strengthening the rotation in the process.

Ikaruga, meanwhile, considered the victory an important litmus test for the Brex.

“To be a champion,” Ikaruga said, “it’s important to excel on the road.”

Hiejima summed up the victory by describing it as a “good feeling.” Specifically, he added, Rossiter’s hustle was impressive in this game.

Jets 87, Alvark 76

In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, Yuki Togashi ignited the high-scoring Jets with 28 points and seven assists as coach Atsushi Ono’s club wrapped up a weekend sweep of Tokyo.

Michael Parker finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and four steals for East Division-leading Chiba (50-8), while Gavin Edwards had 15 points. Josh Duncan provided nine points and eight boards before an announced crowd of 5,541.

Yudai Baba led the Alvark (42-16) with 19 points and dished out six assists. Alex Kirk scored with 18 points and raked in nine boards. Genki Kojima added eight points and seven assists.

Tokyo missed 11 of 14 shots from beyond the arc.

Diamond Dolphins 92, Lakestars 65

In Nagoya, the hosts seized control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring Shiga 25-10 in the decisive period to earn a bounce-back victory.

Former NBA big man Hilton Armstrong lifted the Diamond Dolphins (31-27) with a 25-point performance, making 10 of 12 shots from the field. Armstrong also hauled in nine rebounds. Justin Burrell chipped in with 19 points, 10 boards and five assists, while Shuto Ando poured in 19 points. Ryota Kobayashi registered six assists.

Gani Lawal, a Georgia Tech alum, led the Lakestars (18-40) with 30 points and 12 rebounds.

Hannaryz 83, Rizing Zephyr 79

In Kyoto, the Hannaryz never trailed and posted a series split with Fukuoka.

Playmaker Julian Mavunga had 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for the Hannaryz (30-28) and Shaquille Morris scored 16 points. Tatsuya Ito supplied eight assists to keep the offense chirping and Yusuke Okada contributed 12 points.

Marqus Blakely had 16 points and eight assists, Masashi Joho scored 16 and dished out six assists and Eric Jacobsen and Shota Tsuyama finished with 15 points apiece for the Rizing Zephyr (12-46).

Golden Kings 76, Evessa 59

In Osaka, Ryukyu’s dominant performance on the boards helped the out-of-towners avenge Saturday’s defeat.

The Golden Kings snared 45 rebounds and held the Evessa to 29.

Ex-NBA forward Jeff Ayres (nee Pendergraph) sparked West-leading Ryukyu (38-20) with 17 points and a game-best 18 rebounds (seven offensive). Takatoshi Furukawa scored 15 points, Naoki Tashiro had 11 and Narito Namizato pumped in 10 along with four steals.

Osaka was held to 23 second-half points.

Josh Harrellson paced the Evessa (22-36) with 13 points, Rei Goda scored 10 and Faye Pape Mour had nine with seven rebounds.

Northern Happinets 73, Levanga 44

In Akita, the hosts pounded Hokkaido in the second half to collect their second win in as many days, sending the Levanga to their 20th straight loss.

The Northern Happinets outscored the Levanga 41-19 over the final 20 minutes.

Justin Keenan led Akita (17-41) with 27 points and 12 rebounds. Kadeem Coleby netted 14 points, while Takuya Nakayama, who was limited to three points, energized the squad with 11 rebounds, six assists and three steals.

David Doblas was Hokkaido’s top scorer with 18 points.

The Levanga (10-48) shot 30 percent from the field.

SeaHorses 63, NeoPhoenix 50

In Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, in a defensive battle — a game in which Mikawa’s 21 fourth-quarter points marked the only quarter in which either team scored more than 20 — the hosts outplayed San-en to complete a weekend sweep.

Veteran leader J.R. Sakuragi had a game-high 21 points and Kennedy Meeks chipped in with 18 points, 12 boards, three steals and three blocks for the SeaHorses (31-27). Isaac Butts notched a double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds) and Yuta Okada doled out five assists.

The NeoPhoenix had a 31.1 field-goal shooting percentage in the series finale.

William McDonald and Atsuya Ota each scored 10 points for San-en (22-36).

Albirex BB 84, Brave Thunders 74

In Kawasaki, rookie newcomer Amanze Egekeze, who previously suited up for the Yokohama B-Corsairs and Ryukyu Golden Kings this season, scored a game-high 34 points and Davante Gardner added 26 points and 15 rebounds as Niigata rolled to its eighth consecutive win.

Egekeze, a Belmont University product, converted 12 of 18 shots in his Albirex debut, including 7-for-11 from beyond the arc.

Gardner capitalized on frequent visits to the free-throw line, draining 10 of 12 shots.

Captain Jun Ozawa poured in 12 points for Niigata (43-15), knocking down 4 of 5 3-point attempts.

Nick Fazekas led the Brave Thunders (38-20) with 24 points and 10 boards. Vernon Macklin and Yuma Fujii scored 18 and seven points, respectively, with Fujii also handing out five assists.

Second-division update

Sunday’s B2 scores:

Volters 91, Five Arrows 81

Bambitious 90, Dragonflies 79

Fighting Eagles 73, Brave Warriors 72

Samuraiz 79, Earthfriends 73

Wat’s 74, Robots 71

Susanoo Magic 84, Orange Vikings 68

Firebonds 104, Wyverns 77

89ers 97, Crane Thunders 86