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Golden Kings Soar Past Ballooners in B.League Opener

Before a festive crowd at Saga Arena, Ryukyu jumped out to a 20-point lead in the third quarter of the B.League game and fended off Saga's comeback attempt.

In this era of ubiquitous 3-point shooting, the Ryukyu Golden Kings made their fair share of big shots from beyond the arc in their B.League season-opening game against the Saga Ballooners on Thursday night, October 5.

To be precise, the reigning champions knocked down 14 of 40 3s. At the same time, Ryukyu's defense held Saga, which was playing its first game in the B.League's top flight, aka B1, to 2-for-25 shooting from 3-point range.

The Golden Kings outscored the hosts in all four quarters and led by as many as 20 points in an 80-63 win at Saga Arena before an announced crowd of 7,022.

"I would like to thank everyone involved in the league as well as the media and sponsors for selecting us as the opening match of the league season," Saga head coach Yuta Miyanaga told reporters after the match. "It was a big step for us to play our first game against Ryukyu, the champion of B1 for the first time.

"Also, I think the difference in experience was evident. I think Ryukyu's offense was excellent, as was their shooting percentage, and they were calm and composed in the half-court [situations]."

Ryuichi Kishimoto and Yoshiyuki Matsuwaki sank four 3-pointers apiece to pace Ryukyu's outside shooting attack. Five Golden Kings players scored in double figures, with newcomer Vic Law, who suited up for the Chiba Jets in 2022-23, leading the way with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Matsuwaki had a 13-point night. Filipino forward Carl Tamayo added 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting. 

Kishimoto had 14 points and a game-best six assists, while Golden Kings backup forward Allen Durham chipped in with 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.

Saga's Yoeli Childs looks to create a scoring opportunity as Ryukyu's Allen Durham defends in the second quarter. (KYODO)

Solid Opener for Saga

Power forward Yoeli Childs led the Ballooners with a game-high 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting in nearly 26 minutes off the bench. Point guard Reynaldo Garcia finished with 15 points and five assists and starting center Josh Harrellson had seven points and 12 rebounds. Chase Fieler and Taiki Sumida added seven and five points, respectively.

Sumida said it was a positive sign that his team was able to utilize its quickness to generate scoring opportunities.

"On offense, we were able to push [the ball] all over the court and create a flow during the game, which showed that we could be competitive," the 24-year-old guard said. "We would like to continue to push that part of our game not only against Ryukyu, but also against other teams in the future.

"Creating a wide-open half-court offense means attacking more when we should."

Pre-game festivities at Saga Arena. (KYODO)

Insights from Ryukyu Players

After the game, during an interview seen on the B.League broadcast on Amazon Prime Video, Kishimoto called it a "wonderful atmosphere."

The veteran guard added, "Like Okinawa Arena, [this was] a good home-court atmosphere."

Similarly, Law was in an upbeat mood during his post-game interview for the streaming service.

"I'm happy we came out and got the win," the Northwestern University alum said.

Asked about the team's goal for the season, Law repeated what others within the organization have said in recent weeks. "We're trying to go back-to-back," he declared, referring to the quest for another B.League title.

Golden Kings guard Ryuichi Kishimoto shoots a 3-pointer in the first quarter. (KYODO)

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An Entertaining First Half in the B.League Opener

Garcia scored the first basket of the 2023-24 B.League season, draining an outside jumper from just inside the 3-point arc, delighting the home fans 23 seconds into the game.

In a tight first quarter, the Ballooners pulled within 18-16 on a pair of Garcia free throws with 4 seconds remaining. Kishimoto's 3-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark.

Kishimoto drained his next 3-point shot to give Ryukyu a 21-18 lead early in the second quarter.

Back-to-back inside buckets by Childs put the Ballooners in front 22-21 with 8:10 to play before halftime.

Moments later, Saga led 25-23 after newcomer Harrellson's 3-pointer. And the new B1 entrant held a 27-25 advantage after swingman Daichi Kuzuhara converted a layup at the 5:31 mark.

Before two more minutes had elapsed, the Golden Kings held a 39-28 lead. Kishimoto canned a long 3-pointer to cap the scoring spurt. At that point, he already had 14 points, including 4 of 7 from long range.

Saga trailed 44-33 at halftime.

Ballooners point guard Reynaldo Garcia shoots a layup in the season-opening game. (B.LEAGUE)

Golden Kings Extend Their Lead in the Third Quarter

Ryukyu's lead increased to 47-33 on its opening possession of the third quarter, with Matsuwaki drilling a spot-up 3.

Late in the third quarter, the Golden Kings took their largest lead of the game, 59-39, on another Matsuwaki 3-pointer.

But to their credit, the Ballooners rallied, trimming the deficit to 61-49 entering the final stanza.

But Miyanaga's club continued to play with a sense of urgency. Garcia made a steal and converted a layup to pull the Ballooners to within eight (61-53) with 8:32 remaining. The Cuban-born floor leader drew a foul on the play, but missed the subsequent shot, so the lead stood at eight.

Seconds later, Tamayo sank a 3 from the right corner, courtesy of a Kishimoto assist (his final one of the night). That gave the Golden Kings a 64-53 advantage, and they held a double-digit lead the rest of the game.

"I worked very hard in practice this off-season, and I believe that today was the result of that hard work, and I was able to play with confidence," Tamayo, who made his Golden Kings debut in March 2023, commented after the game.

Ryukyu forward Allen Durham runs the offense against Saga. (KYODO)

More Perspective from the Golden Kings

Discussing how the contest unfolded, Kishimoto said the Golden Kings placed importance on having a good performance in their first regular-season game. 

"Since it was the season opener and our first game at Saga Arena, we were conscious of having fun and getting into the game," Kishimoto said. "We were aware of the tone set for the season, and although there was some stiffness in the beginning, I think each of us was able to fight aggressively. It was a game that I think got us off to a good start.

"I think the next game will be different and we will prepare with a sense of urgency."

What was Ryukyu head coach Dai Oketani's general assessment of his team's performance against Saga?

"There were parts [of the game] where we failed to attack the zone defense, but I thought it would be good if we did not collapse on defense," Oketani told reporters. "So a good point was that the players put their bodies on the line and worked hard on defense."

After a day off, the Golden Kings and Ballooners are set to play the final of the two-game series on Saturday. Tipoff is 3:05 PM.

"There's still one day left until the next game," Oketani concluded, "so we'll try to come to a common understanding of the type of basketball we're going to play and take on the challenge again in the next game."


Ryukyu's Carl Tamayo (left) and Saga's Daichi Kuzuhara (KYODO)

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 X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.


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