KOSHIGAYA, Saitama Prefecture ― A grand total of 51 clubs are competing in the B.League’s first, second and third divisions this season. And with pro basketball games being held in the majority of Japan’s 47 prefectures in this era, the league continues to expand its fan base.
The growth of the B.League, which was launched in 2016 as a FIBA mandate (merging the bj-league and the NBL), is visible on traditional media, social media and at arenas in urban and suburban settings all over Japan.
For example, the Koshigaya Alphas established a new attendance benchmark on Sunday, April 24. A franchise home-arena record 2,865 spectators watched the Alphas fall 75-66 to the Sendai 89ers at Koshigaya Municipal General Gymnasium.
It was an entertaining game with several powerful dunks and quality defense, aggressive forays to the basket, exciting scoring spurts for both clubs and pivotal third-quarter dominance by the 89ers (35-15).
“We faced a very strong opponent who gave us a really strong [game]. We really wanted to win,” Koshigaya coach J.R. Sakuragi said after the game, addressing the crowd. “We really fought hard.”
Reflecting on the palpable energy inside the gym and the large crowd, Sakuragi later tweeted, “The atmosphere of today's game was great. We lost the game, but I felt the positive energy of the fans and players.”
89ers forward Justin Burrell (B.LEAGUE)
89ers forward Justin Burrell, a St. John’s University alum who was the bj-league’s 2011-12 season MVP for the expansion Yokohama B-Corsairs, had a profound impact in Sunday’s series finale, especially in the momentum-changing third quarter. He scored 11 of his 17 points in the period, making 3 of 4 shots from the floor and draining 4-for-4 from the foul line. He added nine rebounds and three assists in a strong all-around game.
No other player on either team scored more than five points in the third quarter.
Sendai, led by first-year bench boss Hiroki Fujita, bounced back from a poor offensive performance in the second quarter, when it scored only seven points.
The Alphas (25-21) led 31-27 at halftime, getting a big defensive boost from veteran forward Craig Brackins, a former NBA player, with three blocked shots before intermission.
In the second half, the 89ers found an extra gear on offense. They moved the ball effectively and made baskets on a more consistent basis than the hosts.
At the same time, the Alphas clearly missed the inside presence of 208-cm, 134-kg center Isaac Butts, who sat out the game with an injury. Butts leads B2 in rebounding (14.0 per game).
Sendai center Jerome Meyinsse, a 33-year-old University of Virginia product, contributed 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in the win. Meyinsse had seven points in the fourth quarter as the visitors fended off the Alphas’ comeback hopes.
Teammate Devin Oliver, a University of Dayton alum, added 10 points and 12 boards. Guards Taiki Okada and Masaharu Kataoka scored seven and six points, respectively.
Alphas forward Tomoya Ochiai drives to the basket. (B.LEAGUE)
Well-traveled forward Jahmar Thorpe led the Alphas with 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Shun Matsuyama scored 10 points. Japan Olympic 3x3 player Tomoya Ochiai added 10 points and seven boards. Susumu Tamura and Makoto Kamata had nine points apiece. Brackins chipped in with eight points and eight rebounds.
Koshigaya had its best sustained offensive stretch in an 11-0 run capped by an Ochiai layup with 5:47 remaining in the second quarter to pull ahead 22-20, the hosts’ first lead of the contest.
Sendai big man Jerome Meyinsse dunks in the series finale. (B.LEAGUE)
The 89ers made adjustments at halftime and followed Fujita’s objective to initiate good scoring opportunities in the second half.
“Let’s move the ball more,” Fujita told reporters later, discussing his pep talk to Sendai’s players, Sports Hochi reported.
And this helped get them more involved in the flow of the offense. With 6:34 to play in the fourth quarter, the 89ers took their largest lead of the game (65-50 on an Okada layup, courtesy of a Meyinsse assist.
After the game, Burrell acknowledged he was pleased with the team’s effort but said the 89ers can’t stop striving to elevate their all-around game.
“The season is not over yet,” Burrell told reporters, noting the playoffs are on the horizon. “I'm happy, but our goal is to get better every day."
B2 Playoff Picture is Set
All eight postseason spots have been locked up in the B.League’s second flight. The East’s representatives will be the Fighting Eagles Nagoya (40-8 through Sunday), the second-place 89ers, the Fukushima Firebonds (33-18) and the Alphas.
In the West, the four participants will be the Kagawa Five Arrows (34-17), Kumamoto Volters (34-17), Nishinomiya Storks (34-18) and Saga Ballooners (27-20.
The B2 playoffs will tip off on May 6.
Taking stock of their overall performance in the regular season, Sakuragi believes the Alphas have a good chance to make some noise in the postseason.
“We are confident and really just focused on getting healthy,” Sakuragi told JAPAN Forward. “The rest will take care of itself.
“The [B2] teams having the most success are the teams with one or two foreign guards. We proved we could contain a team like this against Kumamoto when healthy and at full strength.
“We are capable of playing classic inside-out, modern pick-and-roll [offense] with max spacing and transition basketball. If we are locked in on defense, we have a chance to be successful in the playoffs. Our focus will be defense.”
The former UCLA, NBA and SeaHorses Mikawa (and Aisin SeaHorses star before the team’s name was changed) player, who retired in 2020, said the Alphas’ aforementioned record is deceiving.
“We had a ton of winnable games canceled this season [due to COVID-19] and have been plagued by injuries to top players,” Sakuragi commented. “So although we clinched a playoff spot, I feel we have underperformed. Our record by no means reflects the talent we have.”
Aomori Wat's guard Daichi Shimoyama shoots a jumper on April 24. (B.LEAGUE)
Aomori Wat’s End Epic Losing Streak
After 30 consecutive defeats, the Aomori Wat’s finally had a reason to celebrate on Sunday: a streak-halting 91-81 victory over the Earthfriends Tokyo Z.
Daichi Shimoyama paced the Wats (3-46) with 24 points, including 7 of 9 from 3-point range. Ryan Richards scored 14 points and Renaldo Dixon added 11. Small forward Lakeem Jackson flirted with a triple-double, finishing with eight points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Aomori outscored Tokyo 31-8 in the second half and led 54-27 at halftime.
Aomori Wat's small forward Lakeem Jackson (B.LEAGUE)
Takumi Masuko had 27 points for the Earthfriends (10-41) and Joshua Crawford scored 22.
Aomori had been winless since an 89-65 decision over the Earthfriends on December 4, 2021. What followed set the B2 record for most losses in a row.
Another West Title for the Golden Kings
The B1-leading Ryukyu Golden Kings clinched their fifth straight West title on Saturday by beating the Shimane Susanoo Magic 93-82 at Okinawa Arena before an announced crowd of 6,513.
A day later, the Golden Kings completed a weekend sweep, topping the Susanoo Magic 71-68.
Ryukyu improved to 45-5, while Shimane slipped to 37-14.
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Author: Ed Odeven