Basketball / B. League

Defending champions Alvark win second straight to open season

by Ed Odeven

Staff Writer

The Alvark Tokyo improved to 2-0 on the new season with a hard-earned 94-84 victory over the visiting Niigata Albirex BB on Sunday afternoon.

Trailing 42-41 at halftime, the Alvark excelled for key stretches of the second half and pulled ahead by as many 20 points, but couldn’t maintain that intensity and productivity for entire half at Arena Tachikawa Tachihi.

Tokyo center Alex Kirk scored a team-best 23 points, including 15 in the second half, and handed out five assists. Four teammates also had double-digit scoring performances: Daiki Tanaka (15 points, six assists), newcomers Yutaro Suda and Milan Macvan (14 apiece) and Shohei Kikuchi (10), with Genki Kojima adding nine points.

Third-year bench boss Luka Pavicevic, who guided the Alvark to back-to-back B. League titles in 2017-18 and last season, commended his players for winning a “tough game.”

Last Sunday, the Alvark captured their first-ever FIBA Asia Champions Cup in Bangkok, leaving little time to recover physically and mentally in the run-up to the B. League season opener, Pavicevic noted.

“It’s not easy to enter the season after five games of such intensity and after draining emotionally and winning that for the first time in Japanese basketball as Asia Cup champions,” Pavicevic told reporters.

For Niigata, Nick Perkins had a game-high 29 points, making 13 of 20 shots from the floor. Lamont Hamilton added 20 points, 11 boards and three blocks. Kei Igarashi chipped in with 14 points. Kenta Morii dished out seven assists.

The Alvark capitalized on their defensive takeaways, turning the Albirex’s giveaways into points at the other end of the court. Pavicevic’s club outscored Niigata 22-4 on points from turnovers.

Early on, Kojima gave the Alvark a 9-4 lead after a layup that followed his steal in the open court. Moments later, he again made it a five-point game (12-7), drilling a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the left corner.

Tokyo led 21-17 after the opening stanza. Perkins had 12 of Niigata’s points in the period.

In the second quarter, the Alvark took a 32-23 lead on a Kirk jumper. Niigata responded with a rapid troika of 3-point buckets to tie it 32-32 near the midway point of the period. Hamilton, who had 14 second-quarter points, put the visitors ahead 42-41 on a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the half.

Niigata led 49-48 after Perkins’ two-handed jam near the 7-minute mark of the third quarter.

Tokyo responded with a 10-0 run to pull ahead 58-49.

The Albirex cut it to 58-54 on an Igarashi layup, but the Alvark stayed in control and led 70-60 after three quarters.

However, Pavicevic stated that his team didn’t maintain its defensive focus after building a big lead.

In the fourth quarter, as part of a 12-4 spurt, Tokyo took its largest lead of the game, 89-69, when Kikuchi sank a 3-pointer from the right wing with about 3:40 remaining.

Speaking at center court during the post-game hero interview, Suda admitted to the crowd that he was nervous. Then he spoke with pride and articulated the team’s focus in the early stages of the season. “The team showed its strength,” he said, referring to the weekend series. He called it “a wonderful team.”

“Let’s do our best (this season),” he added as fans clapped enthusiastically.

Before addressing the media, Pavicevic commented on the challenge his team faces in the weeks and months to come, saying the East Division features tough competition, including, he said, improved Levanga Hokkaido, Yokohama B-Corsairs and Sunrockers Shibuya squads. He mentioned the Chiba Jets and Utsunomiya Brex as top contenders as well in the division.

“If we make the playoffs,” Pavicevic said, standing on the court after the game, “you know what is our goal.”

For Albirex coach Kazuhiro Shoji, who guided his club to a 40-20 record and the Central Division title last season, Sunday’s game provided a few reminders of what it’ll take to beat the Alvark.

He cited costly turnovers as a factor in his team’s defeat.

In addition, Shoji said his team needs to shore up its defense in the paint against Tokyo.

“We needed to be a bit more physical,” he pointed out.

Macvan, meanwhile, is pleased with his team’s successful start to the season

“Well, to be honest, I think we know how good we are at the moment,” Macvan told The Japan Times. “I think all the guys are ready to fight and compete and that’s the most important thing because we put a big target on our back after winning the (FIBA Asia Champions Cup), so it’s been a bigger challenge to go game by game, so that’s what we are trying to do.”

Alvark forward Zack Baranski missed the weekend series due to a right ankle sprain.

Diamond Dolphins 66, Susanoo Magic 63

In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, veteran forward Justin Burrell notched a double-double (24 points, 16 rebounds) and Shuto Ando poured in 16 points as Nagoya completed a weekend sweep of the hosts.

Robert Carter led Shimane with 29 points and nine boards.

Sunrockers 83, Jets 78

In Tokyo, balanced scoring carried Shibuya past Chiba as coach Tsutomu Isa’s club improved to 2-0.

Leo Vendrame and Kosuke Ishii each had 13 points and Sebastian Saiz provided 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Sunrockers.

Chiba’s Nick Mayo scored 24 points and Gavin Edwards finished with 20.

Brave Thunders 75, Brex 69

In Kawasaki, the hosts outscored Utsunomiya 25-5 in the fourth quarter to complete a season-opening sweep.

The opener was held on Thursday at Yokohama Arena.

Nick Fazekas paced the Brave Thunders with 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting. For the Brex, Jeff Gibbs had 21 points.

Grouses 88, NeoPhoenix 71

In Toyama, big man Joshua Smith was virtually unstoppable, scoring 33 points on 15-for-17 shooting in a win over San-en.

Smith grabbed 15 boards, while teammate Leo Lyons added 23 points as Toyama won for the second straight day.

Devin Ebanks had 36 points for the NeoPhoenix.

Hannaryz 72, Lakestars 69

In Kyoto, Julian Mavunga sparked the hosts with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists and David Simon contributed 15 points and 11 boards a to lead the Hannaryz past Shiga.

Keijuro Matsui added 12 points for Kyoto.

Charles Rhodes scored 18 points for the Lakestars.

Evessa 77, Northern Happinets 70

In Akita, newcomers Sean O’Mara and Richard Hendrix both produced double-doubles to help guide Osaka to a bounce-back win over the hosts.

O’Mara scored 22 points and pulled down 10 boards. Hendrix recorded 11 points and 17 rebounds.

For Akita, Takatoshi Furukawa poured in 19 points.

Golden Kings 80, SeaHorses 76

In Okinawa City, Josh Scott’s 17-point, 12-rebound effort and Shota Onodera’s 16 points were among the key highlights in the hosts’ narrow victory over Mikawa.

Davante Gardner had 23 points and 11 boards and Yuta Okada scored 17 points for the visitors.

Levanga 72, B-Corsairs 67

In Sapporo, Marc Trasolini energized the hosts with 33 points on 14-for-23 shooting in a series-opening win over Yokohama.

For the B-Corsairs, Reginald Becton had 23 points and 13 boards.

The teams square off again on Monday at the same venue.

Saturday’s scores

Alvark 87, Albirex BB 59
Northern Happinets 81, Evessa 58
Sunrockers 88, Jets 80
Diamond Dolphins 72, Susanoo Magic 58
Hannaryz 89, Lakestars 71
Grouses 87, NeoPhoenix 67
SeaHorses 71, Golden Kings 61

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5