Basketball / B. League

Jets oust Brex to clinch Championship berth

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Chiba Jets Funabashi soared to great heights during the regular season.

But the East Division champions had higher aspirations all along, and the team’s third straight Emperor’s Cup title in January provided the biggest hint of all.

The Jets, the 2017-18 title runners-up, ascended one step closer to their ultimate target on Sunday, defeating the Tochigi Brex 88-83 in Game 2 of the East rivals’ B. League Championship semifinal series at Funabashi Arena.

Up next: The Jets will face the winner of the Ryukyu Golden Kings-Alvark Tokyo semifinal series in Saturday’s B. League Championship final at Yokohama Arena. The title contest is set to start at 3:10 p.m.

The Jets, who had a league-best 52-8 regular-season record, extended their winning streak to 12 games. They ended the regular season with eight straight victories, then eliminated the Toyama Grouses in the opening round of the playoffs last weekend.

Chiba star guard Yuki Togashi, who has had overseas basketball experiences at prep powerhouse Montrose Christian School (where Golden State Warriors superstar Kevin Durant also played) in Maryland plus past stints in the NBA Summer League and with the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League (now called the NBA G League), continued his stellar postseason play with a dynamic 21-point, eight-assist effort.

The Jets relied on a balanced offensive attack in Game 2, getting 18 points from reserve forward Josh Duncan, 17 from center Gavin Edwards and 16 from power forward Michael Parker. Small forward Aki Chambers supplied nine points and a game-high four steals.

Edwards corralled eight rebounds and blocked three shots, while Duncan and Parker both grabbed seven boards.

Duncan had 10 fourth-quarter points. He shot nine free throws in the final period, making six of them.

The Brex, second in the East with a 49-11 record, played without leading scorer Ryan Rossiter on Sunday. The Siena College product sustained a right fibula bone contusion in the second half of Game 1. On Sunday, he entered the arena on crutches. This season, Rossiter was the league’s No. 8 scorer (19.8 points per game) and No. 2 rebounder (11.3). He was ninth in assists (4.8) and eighth in blocks (0.9). Seldom-used center Andrew Naymick started in place of Rossiter. He finished with zero points and three rebounds.

The Jets withstood every challenge the pesky Brex threw at them, holding off Tochigi’s ferocious late rally attempt in the fourth, too.

“It was a great game,” Parker said, adding that the Jets were energized by “super energy from our fans.”

“We just wanted to put it away in two (games),” he admitted, referring to the team’s wish to avoid playing a Game 3 on Monday.

The teams traded baskets in an opening quarter featuring five ties and four lead changes. During the rest of the game there were no more ties nor lead changes.

Even so, Brex coach Ryuzo Anzai dismissed the notion that his team made major changes due to Rossiter’s absence. He told reporters the team’s basic offensive and defensive plans remained intact.

The Jets outrebounded the Brex 43-30.

Late in the first quarter, Duncan sank a 3-pointer from the corner to put his team ahead 24-19, and Togashi, who had a tone-setting eight points, five assists and a steal in the period, followed with a layup.

Chiba led 26-21 after the first quarter, a 10-minute stretch in which Tochigi’s Jeff Gibbs scored 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting.

The Jets maintained their lead throughout the second quarter, increasing it to eight on one occasion and seven four times, including a 41-34 halftime advantage.

By halftime, Gibbs (14 points) and Makoto Hiejima (11 points) were carrying the Brex’s offense, with Seiji Ikaruga distributing the ball with pinpoint passes (five assists).

In the second half, Chiba’s aggressive defense fueled its offense. For instance, a Chambers steal led to a Chambers layup and a 47-37 lead with 7:50 to go in the third.

The Jets also hit timely 3s on several occasions, including Togashi’s with 2:47 left in the third. That made it 61-48, Chiba.

And the Brex faced a 65-52 deficit entering the final stanza.

Tochigi heated up on offense in the fourth, knocking down four 3-pointers. Veteran Yusuke Endo scored 14 of his team-best 24 points in the fourth, but the Brex never got over the hump. They got as close as 87-83 on a Hironori Watanabe 3-pointer with 5 seconds left. Then a Togashi free throw accounted for the final scoring play.

Chiba converted 18 of 30 free throws.

Gibbs, who fouled out, had 19 points, four assists and five steals. Hiejima finished with 18 points, making 9 of 13 free throws, while Watanabe poured in 11 points.

Jets coach Atsushi Ono credited his players for their tenacious defense against Tochigi’s pick-and-roll offense.

Watanabe, meanwhile, lamented “missed opportunities” in Game 2. He said the team didn’t capitalize on enough second-chance opportunities.

Asked about Rossiter’s absence, Watanabe acknowledge that it was “difficult to play without his presence (in the lineup).”

“Guys stepped up when they needed to,” Gibbs said of his team, “but it just wasn’t enough. … They (the Jets) just made more shots.”

In particular, the Jets brought the rowdy home fans to their feet with their inside power and potent outside shooting. Two fourth-quarter plays stood out for the hosts. On a 2-on-1, Fumio Nishimura delivered a high pass to Edwards,who leaped and jammed it through for a 71-58 lead. Moments later, Togashi fired a behind-the-back pass to Nishimura, who sank a 3-pointer to make it 79-63 with 3:53 remaining. The backcourt duo celebrated with a euphoric chest bump.

Golden Kings 62, Alvark 56 (series tied 1-1)

In Okinawa City, Ryukyu outscored the defending champions 22-10 in the fourth quarter in a bounce-back victory.

Jeff Ayres led the Golden Kings with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Kevin Jones chipped in with 11 points, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks, while Takatoshi Furukawa added seven points.

For Tokyo, Seiya Ando scored 15 points and Alex Kirk had 12 and five assists. Daiki Tanaka finished with eight points and Yudai Baba had seven.

The Alvark were held to 23-for-60 shooting (38.3 percent) from the field.

The Golden Kings took a 28-27 advantage into the third quarter.

After the game, Ryukyu bench boss Norio Sassa paid tribute to the team’s spirited fans for their support.

“I really felt the great cheer of the fans in the fourth quarter,” Sassa told reporters before adding, “…Let’s fight with the aim of advancing to the final.”

After a day off, the series finale is scheduled to tip off on Tuesday night at 7:05 at the same venue.

“As expected, Game 2 was also a tough game,” said Alvark coach Luka Pavicevic,whose team won the series opener 67-57.

“However,” he added, “this is not the end of the series, so I would like to switch (focus) to devote everything to Game 3.”

B2 Championship Series

Brave Warriors 84, Crane Thunders 77 (Shinshu wins 2-0)

In Chikuma, Nagano Prefecture, center Wayne Marshall’s 31-point, 14-rebound effort helped carry Shinshu to its second victory in as many days against Gunma.

As a result, Brave Warriors coach Michael Katsuhisa’s club captured the second-division playoff title. But Shinshu will remain in B2 for the 2019-20 season. Earlier this year, the league announced that the team did not meet the league’s financial requirements for promotion to the top flight, which is one of the requirements to be issued a B1 license.

Point guard Kaito Ishikawa finished with 21 points and nine assists and veteran forward Anthony McHenry contributed eight assists for the Brave Warriors (52-12 overall).

Masashi Obuchi paced the Crane Thunders with 26 points and Thomas Kennedy had 14 points and nine boards.

Third-place series

Susanoo Magic 82, Volters 77 (Shimane wins 2-0)

In Kumamoto, Stanford University alum Rosco Allen’s 25-point, 10-rebound performance and Gregory Echenique’s 23 points led Shimane past the hosts en route to a third-place finish.

Takumi Furuno paced Kumamoto with 24 points and Chehales Tapscott scored 19.