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Meisei High School made a historic comeback late on Tuesday to capture its sixth-ever Winter Cup championship with a 72-70 win over Higashiyama High in the boy’s final at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

Meisei ace forward Ibu Yamazaki grabbed his own missed shot for a rebound in the paint and hit a game-winning jumper with five seconds left before Higashiyama guard Haruki Hori’s desperate response was blocked at the buzzer.

It was the first Winter Cup title for the Sendai school since 2017, when it featured Aren Hachimura, a younger brother of NBA star Rui Hachimura.

Rui, who went on to play for Gonzaga University before being drafted by the Washington Wizards in 2019, navigated Meisei to three straight Winter Cup titles from 2013.

“Congratulations to my high school, Meisei High School, for winning the Winter Cup,” Hachimura tweeted after the game. “Very proud of you guys.”

Ibu Yamazaki (second from the left) and his Meisei teammates celebrate his eventual game-winning basket during Tuesday's Winter Cup final against Higashiyama. | COURTESY OF THE JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Ibu Yamazaki (second from the left) and his Meisei teammates celebrate his eventual game-winning basket during Tuesday’s Winter Cup final against Higashiyama. | COURTESY OF THE JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION

Playing around Congolese center Jean Pierre Mutombo, Higashiyama prevailed from the second quarter and expanded its lead to as many as 17 points late in the third.

But Meisei began to turn the tables later in the final quarter with its ferocious defense and fast-tempo offense, taking a 65-62 lead through a Yamazaki 3-pointer with just under three minutes left.

In the closing seconds, Higashiyama guard Reoto Yonesu hit three free throws to tie the game at 70-all before Yamazaki nailed the game-winner.

“I was going to receive the ball off screen and pass it to Jaheru Ryuto Yamauchi, but I decided to go aggressively,” Yamazaki said when asked if the final play that led to his game-winner had been designed. “So I went for the shot.”

Yamazaki had a game-high 25 points while racking up 10 rebounds and three steals for Meisei.

Yamauchi was another hero for Meisei. He suffered from horrible 3-point shooting for the majority of the game, but hit three from behind the arc late to fuel his team’s surge. The senior guard, who went 3-for-16 in his 3-point shooting, had 18 points and accounted for six of his team’s 17 steals.

Higashiyama, a Kyoto school that finished runner-up at the 2016 edition and came up short again, recorded only two steals.

Meisei's Ibu Yamazaki (second from left) attacks the basket while being defended by Higashiyama center Jean Pierre Mutombo on Tuesday at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. | COURTESY OF THE JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Meisei’s Ibu Yamazaki (second from left) attacks the basket while being defended by Higashiyama center Jean Pierre Mutombo on Tuesday at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. | COURTESY OF THE JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION

“I was thinking of helping my team defensively and was looking to steal the ball while our team was struggling during the game,” Yamauchi said.

Mutombo, a 206-cm center, was a nightmare for Meisei for most of the game with 22 points, 22 rebounds and nine blocked shots.

Meisei was built around Yamazaki, who is the tallest player on the squad and has been dubbed the “next Hachimura.” He was guarded tightly by his opponents throughout the tournament and he confessed that he still has a ton of room to improve to catch up with his idol.

Yamazaki still has one more year in high school and is already eyeing a Winter Cup repeat next year with an even better performance as the team’s ace.

“I’m not as good a centerpiece as Rui was when he was with Meisei,” the Chiba Prefecture native said. “But I’m happy that we played like how Meisei should toward the end and won the championship.”

Meisei head Hisao Sato (center) celebrates with his players after Tuesday's win at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. | COURTESY OF THE JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
Meisei head Hisao Sato (center) celebrates with his players after Tuesday’s win at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. | COURTESY OF THE JAPAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION

Hisao Sato, the Meisei head coach who guided his team to all the six Winter Cup titles, said that Yamazaki has “gradually” grown into a player who nails shots in close situations.

“One of the things Ibu Yamazaki has gotten better is that he’s been able to make shots when things matter the most for us,” Sato said. “He doesn’t need to score 50, 60 points in a game. He needs to make shots that he has to for us. And I’m glad he’s been able to do that.”

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