Basketball / B. League

Sensational start propels Nagoya past Ryukyu in series opener

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Nagoya Diamond Dolphins overwhelmed the Ryukyu Golden Kings in the first quarter of Saturday’s B. League Championship quarterfinal series opener.

The Diamond Dolphins’ 21-4 scoring spurt over the first 10 minutes paved the way for a 69-53 victory in Okinawa City.

And now the pressure’s on Ryukyu to win Game 2 in order to force a winner-take-all Game 3 on Monday.

Nagoya’s dynamic start included a 14-0 run that began near the midway point of the first quarter. Shuto Ando, who had 11 points, initiated the run with a basket in the lane at the 5:23 mark. He did it again with 1:27 to play in the quarter to extend the lead to 21-2.

Led by veteran big men Hilton Armstrong (18 points, 9-for-11 shooting, 16 rebounds) and Justin Burrell (17 points, 11 boards), the Diamond Dolphins established control near the basket. They outscored the hosts 40-22 in the paint.

Burrell and Takaya Sasayama each had four assists, and Taito Nakahigashi finished with 10 points.

Jeff Ayres led Ryukyu (40-20 in the regular season) with 15 points and 11 boards. Kevin Jones had 14 points, with Narito Namizato, Naoki Tashiro and Yutaro Suda all scoring five.

Armstrong’s extensive experience playing in the NBA, including postseason appearances for three teams (New Orleans Hornets, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors) could be a valuable X-factor for Nagoya during the ongoing B. League playoffs.

Alvark 78, Albirex BB 72

In Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, reigning champion Tokyo ended the Albirex’s 10-game winning streak in their series opener and moved within one victory of reaching the playoff semifinals.

In a tight game — neither team led in double digits — the Alvark took a 58-50 lead into the fourth quarter.

University of New Mexico alum Alex Kirk was Tokyo’s top scorer with 24 points, including three dunks, and led all players with four blocks. Yudai Baba contributed 14 points and two blocks and Seiya Ando had a big game with 11 points, making both of his 3-point attempts, and nine assists. Reserve forward Zack Baranski also capitalized on his long-range shooting chances (3 of 4) in a nine-point effort.

The Alvark, who were 16-4 in March and April regular-season games, registered 20 assists against six turnovers. They limited Niigata to 15 assists and forced 12 turnovers.

Regular-season scoring champ Davante Gardner put 30 points on the board and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Albirex frontcourt mate Lamont Hamilton scored 13 points. No other Niigata player had more than six points.

Brex 89, Brave Thunders 62

In Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, the Brex completed a two-game sweep with another runaway victory in Game 2.

Tochigi hammered Kawasaki 87-57 in Friday’s playoff opener.

In the rematch, the Brex’s third-quarter excellence was a pivotal factor.

Tochigi put 22 points on the board in the third while holding the visitors to six.

That gave the hosts a 61-41 advantage entering the final period.

Ryan Rossiter paced the Brex with 20 points and shared the team lead in rebounds (11) with Kosuke Takeuchi. Jeff Gibbs added 16 points and three steals, matching Rossiter’s total for the team lead. Makoto Hiejima, who was 4-for-4 on 3s, scored 14 points and doled out four assists. Yusuke Endo chipped in with 12 points, Takeuchi had nine and Seiji Ikaruga scored seven points and dished out seven assists.

Tochigi (49-11 in the regular season) has won seven straight.

The Brex outrebounded the Brave Thunders 45-32.

Kawasaki’s Nick Fazekas, who scored a team-high 14 points, was held to 6-for-16 shooting. Vernon Macklin and Yuma Fujii added 13 and 10 points, respectively.

Jets 102, Grouses 73

In Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, big man Gavin Edwards dominated inside in a 23-point performance, making 11 of 15 shots, and Yuki Togashi canned 5 of 5 from 3-point range in an electrifying 17-point, 13-assist outing for the hosts in Game 1.

The East Division champion Jets, winners of eight straight entering the playoffs, outscored the visitors 54-29 in the second half, including a 13-0 run to take a 98-71 lead.

Chiba forward Michael Parker put his stamp on the game with 18 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, three steals and a pair of blocks. Shigehiro Taguchi poured in 14 points, connecting on 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, with Aki Chambers providing 12 points.

The Jets finished with 28 assists and five turnovers. They shot 60 percent from the floor, including 10-for-24 on 3s.

Leo Lyons led Toyama with 28 points and Joshua Smith scored 15 with 11 boards. Takeshi Mito contributed 11 points and Naoki Uto added nine with eight assists. The Grouses made 3 of 17 3s.

B2 playoffs

Crane Thunders 82, Volters 71

In Kumamoto, Thomas Kennedy’s 38 points sparked Gunma in a series-opening victory over the hosts.

Yoshihiko Toshino led Kumamoto with 20 points.

Brave Warriors 74, Susanoo Magic 61

In Chikuma, Nagano Prefecture, Anthony McHenry energized Shinshu with a 25-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist performance, while Wayne Marshall had a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds) in Game 1 against Shimane.

Point guard Kaito Ishikawa chipped in with 18 points and six assists for the Central Division champion Brave Warriors.

For the Susanoo Magic, Rosco Allen finished with 26 points and 14 boards.

B1 survival playoff

Levanga 91, B-Corsairs 89 (Game 2)

Levanga 22, B-Corsairs 14 (Game 3, mini-game)

In Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Hokkaido ended a 23-game losing streak by avenging a series-opening defeat to Yokohama in Game 2.

By forcing the 10-minute mini-game tiebreaker, the Levanga kept alive their hope of not being demoted to B2.

Hokkaido’s Byron Mullens had 28 points and 11 rebounds, Kohei Sekino scored 15 points and Ryota Sakurai and David Doblas each had 12 in Game 2.

Takuya Kawamura scored 17 points and handed out nine assists for the B-Corsairs and Brandon Costner netted 16 points. Arthur Stepheson had 15 points and 19 boards, with Ryo Tawatari also scoring 15.

In the tiebreaker, Mullens led all players with 10 points.

“Amazing way to finish off the season with two huge wins! Hokkaido forward Marc Trasolini tweeted. “It was a tough year but I’m so proud of this team for coming together when it really mattered! We had great fan support until the end.”

Claros leaving Akita

After two seasons at the helm, Akita Northern Happinets coach Josep “Pep” Claros is leaving the club.

The team made the announcement on Saturday, stating that his contract has expired.

The 50-year-old Spaniard guided the Happinets to a 54-6 record in B2 last season. As a result, Akita earned promotion to the top flight.

The Happinets went 17-43 this season.

“Now that the season is over, I have to join my family with the satisfaction and pride that the team will stay in B1 next season,” Claros said in a statement. “I have spent two incredible seasons where I could learn a lot from the Japanese culture, I could feel the warmest crowd I ever had, and I worked with the best organization that a coach can dream (of). I have been extremely fortunate to live in the city of Akita and to belong to the Northern Happinets.

“I’m feeling grateful for the hard work and the dedication of the players, the commitment of my loyal staff, and the support and capacity of the president who has been with me all the time.

“Thank you all. … I’m happy that soon I will join my kids and wife that I have missed every day, but I’m also a bit sad, because I will leave a part of myself here. I will keep all the moments and memories in my heart and I know that Akita, the Northern Happinets and all of you will stay with me forever.”

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