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Crane Thunders Make Winning Debut at Open House Arena Ota

The Crane Thunders overcame a 13-point halftime deficit at Open House Arena Ota, rallying past the Utsunomiya Brex in the first B.League game at the new venue.

Michael Parker scored the first basket on a shot from close range in the first-ever game at Open House Arena Ota, the Gunma Crane Thunders' new home, on Saturday, April 15. It was a memorable moment among a plethora of festivities that marked the occasion.

The Crane Thunders became the latest B.League team to open a new home venue in this era of growth in professional basketball in Japan. In Okinawa, the state-of-the-art Okinawa Arena opened in April 2021. New arenas are also being planned for the next few years for the Chiba Jets, Alvark Tokyo, Kawasaki Brave Thunders and other teams in the B.League's first and second divisions, including the B2's Nagasaki Velca and the Kumamoto Volters.

Although the Crane Thunders trailed 43-30 at halftime, coach Kota Mizuno's club regrouped and made a spirited comeback in the second half en route to a 79-71 victory over the reigning champion Utsunomiya Brex.

A crowd of 5,262 along with local dignitaries and B.League chairman Shinji Shimada attended the match at the 11,000-square meter facility.

New sports venues attract attention, generating excitement and intrigue for the fan base and expanded media coverage. In May 2021, the Crane Thunders announced plans for a new arena to be built by the spring of 2023, starting in July 2021.

A packed house for the first-ever game at Open House Arena Ota. (B.LEAGUE)

Crane Thunders cheerleaders perform during the opening game at Open House Arena Ota. (B.LEAGUE)

The Crane Thunders experienced that attention and excitement along with the new atmosphere of Open House Arena Ota.

Parker, a naturalized Japanese citizen and one of the premier players in Japan pro hoops for a decade and a half, notched a double-double (17 points, 12 rebounds) in Game 1 at the new venue in Ota City Sports Park.

Crane Thunders
Crane Thunders big man Kaleb Tarczewski attempts an inside shot over the Brex's Grant Jerrett in the fourth quarter. B.LEAGUE)

Inside Strength Lifts Crane Thunders

Gunma dominated inside at both ends of the floor, outscoring Utsunomiya 40-20 in the paint.

Trey McKinney-Jones and Kaleb Tarczewski added 16 and 14 points, respectively, for the hosts. Popular playmaker Narito Namizato delivered an inspired performance for Gunma with nine points and seven assists.

"I think it was a great game with a great new arena opening, a really good atmosphere and a new history," Parker said after the game.

Crane Thunders forward Michael Parker runs the offense. (B.EAGUE)

Parker added, "I felt the energy in front of so many people, and I think we were able to play with excitement."

Describing the feeling of playing in front of a packed house (officially listed with a capacity of 5,000) in the venue's debut game, McKinney-Jones summed it up this way: "The wonderful atmosphere of the fans' support gave us a boost. I would like to take advantage of today's atmosphere as a home base."

Crane Thunders head coach Kota Mizuno (B.LEAGUE)

More Thoughts on Game at Crane Thunders' New Home

Namizato was fired up by the mood at the new arena.

"For a moment, the atmosphere among the fans changed so much that it felt like we weren't at home," the veteran point guard told reporters. "I think there are many surprises in this arena that will make the space like Disneyland fun, so I hope everyone finds it and enjoys it."

Gunma head coach Kota Mizuno was delighted that his club made a winning start at its new home.

"I am very happy that we were able to play a good game against Utsunomiya in a wonderful environment and finish the first match at Open House Arena Ota with a win," Mizuno stated. 

"The cheers we received when we were catching up and the cheers we received for each play, we felt that everyone's thoughts were really conveyed, and the atmosphere turned into our energy. I think it's because many people enjoyed it together and made it a success together."

On Sunday, Utsunomiya bounced back with an 82-57 win against Gunma.

The Crane Thunders are scheduled to play four more home games at Open House Arena Ota before the end of the 2022-23 season: Chiba Jets (April 22-23) and Fighting Eagles Nagoya (April 29-30).

The Chiba Jets celebrate their Eastern Conference-clinching victory over the Levanga Hokkaido on April 16 on Funabashi Arena. (B.LEAGUE)

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Jets Clinch East Title

Trouncing the visiting Levanga Hokkaido 80-54 at Funabashi Arena, the Chiba Jets won their sixth consecutive game on Sunday, April 16.

The Jets' 47th victory in 53 games this season also clinched the club's Eastern Conference regular-season title, their second in a row and fourth overall in the B.League's seven seasons.

Christopher Smith paced Chiba with 24 points, Vic Law had 20 points and 10 rebounds, John Mooney finished with nine points and 18 boards. Yuki Togashi chipped in with six points and five assists, including becoming the first B.League player with 2,000 career assists in league games.

Hokkaido (16-37) trailed 42-27 at halftime.

Jets backup forward Gaku Arao was happy with the outcome of Sunday's game.

"While Hokkaido fought hard from the start of the game, I am glad that we were able to win at home and win the conference championship," Arao said. "I don't usually score many baskets, so I'm glad that everyone was happy when I made a shot."


Kawasaki Brave Thunders star Nick Fazekas sank 18 of 20 shots against the Niigata Albreix BB in the series finale on April 16 in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture. (B.LEAGUE)

Fazekas Leads Brave Thunders to Weekend Sweep

Kawasaki Brave Thunders big man Nick Fazekas missed two shots in the first quarter against the Niigata Albirex BB on Sunday, April 16.

Fazekas, who is averaging 15.7 shots per game this season, didn't miss another one for the rest of the game.

The former NBA player finished with 41 points on 18-for-20 shooting and 5-for-6 on free-throw attempts in the Brave Thunders' 96-83 road victory in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture. 

Kawasaki cruised to its sixth straight win.

Brave Thunders star Nick Fazekas drives to the basket against the Albirex BB. (B.LEAGUE)

Fazekas had 11 first-quarter points. By halftime, he had 25 points. He was 6-for-6 from the floor in the second quarter.

The Kawasaki scoring ace attempted one only shot in the third quarter, increasing his point total to 27 entering the final stanza.

In the fourth quarter, he was 7 of 7 to finish the weekend finale with his highest-scoring game of the B.League era.

Fazekas led the league in scoring in 2016-17 (27.1 points per game) in its inaugural season.

He's having another strong all-around season for the Brave Thunders, averaging 20.9 points (second in the league), 9.9 rebounds (sixth overall) and 4.5 assists.

"It was a short break [after] yesterday's match, but I think I was able to maintain my shooting touch," said Fazekas, who scored 25 points on 11-for-17 shooting in the series opener on Saturday, April 15.

Fazekas is having his highest-scoring season since averaging 23.2 in 2012-20.

"Today's match was a back-and-forth affair, but I think the reason we won the match was that we were able to increase our defensive strength at key points and hold back the opponent's offense, which is their specialty," Brave Thunders coach Kenji Sato said after Sunday's game.

SeaHorses Mikawa forward Quincy Miller shoots a layup as Sunrockers Shibuya forward Ryan Kelly defends on April 16 at Aoyama Gakuin Memorial Hall. (B.LEAGUE)

SeaHorses Overpower Sunrockers in Fourth Quarter

The SeaHorses Mikawa showcased their offensive talent in a 110-104 road victory over the Sunrockers Shibuya on Sunday, April 16.

Mikawa bounced back from a 94-87 loss in the series opener on Saturday.

Veteran forward Quincy Miller, a former NBA player for the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons, led the SeaHorses with 31 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and made four steals. Davante Gardner poured in 24 points. Satoshi Nagano provided 19 points and handed out 13 assists, while backcourt mate Yudai Nishida scored 10 points.

Sunrockers guard Leo Vendrame dishes the ball to a teammate in the fourth quarter. (B.LEAGUE)

James Michael McAdoo paced the Sunrockers with 24 points and Ryan Kelly scored 22. Genki Kojima had a 14-point performance and Leo Vendrame dished out six assists.

Shibuya led 86-80 entering the final period.

In the pivotal fourth quarter, the SeaHorses outscored the Sunrockers 30-18. Shibuya made only 6 of 18 shots in the quarter. Mikawa converted 12 of 19, getting eight points from Nagano and seven from Gardner to lead the team's successful comeback.

Conference Standings

Here's an updated look at the East, Central and West through games of Wednesday, April 19:

Chiba Jets (48-6)
Alvark Tokyo (40-14)
Utsunomiya Brex (27-27)
Akita Northern Happinets (27-27)
Gunma Crane Thunders (26-28)
Ibaraki Robots (19-35)
Sendai 89ers (18-36)
Levanga Hokkaido (16-38)

Kawasaki Brave Thunders (37-17)
Yokohama B-Corsairs (32-22)
Shinshu Brave Warriors (26-28)
Sunrockers Shibuya (25-29)
SeaHorses Mikawa (23-31)
San-en NeoPhoenix (21-33)
Toyama Grouses (12-42)
Niigata Albirex BB (9-45)

Shimane Susanoo Magic (44-10)
Ryukyu Golden Kings (43-11)
Hiroshima Dragonflies (39-15)
Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (38-16)
Osaka Evessa (24-30)
Fighting Eagles Nagoya (21-33)
Kyoto Hannaryz (20-34)
Shiga Lakestars (13-41)

The B.League regular season is scheduled to wrap up on May 7.

Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.


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