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San-en NeoPhoenix are Riding a Seven-Game Winning Streak

In his second season at the helm, San-en NeoPhoenix coach Atsushi Ono has led his team to an impressive start to the 2023-24 B.League campaign.

Fueled by a seven-game winning streak, the San-en NeoPhoenix sit atop the eight-team Central Conference at the end of the first month of the B.League season.

The NeoPhoenix (8-1) kept their win streak alive with 88-74 and 81-79 road victories over the Akita Northern Happinets (2-7) on Saturday and Sunday, October 28 and 29.

As a result, San-en is tied with the Osaka Evessa and the Alvark Tokyo for the best record in the 24-team league.

San-en went 23-37 in head coach Atsushi Ono's first season at the helm in 2022-23. This season, the team has played consistent, quality basketball to kick off its 60-game campaign.

The NeoPhoenix are second in the league in scoring (88.0 points per game) and fourth in assists (19.8). They are No 1 in rebounding (45.0 per contest) and fourth in steals (7.7). 

San-en NeoPhoenix
NeoPhoenix center David Dudzinski (23) defends Northern Happinets big man Steve Zack. (B.LEAGUE)

Up next: Ono's team looks to keep its win streak alive with games against the Utsunomiya Brex (7-2) on Saturday and Sunday, November 4 and 5. The Brex, B.League champions in the 2016-17 and 2021-22 seasons, take a four-game victory streak of their own into the weekend series.

After two games in two days in Akita, guard Ryusei Sasaki was fired up about the team's overall play of late. 

"We are currently riding a seven-game winning streak, and I hope that the whole team will continue this momentum and extend the winning streak to eight or nine games in a row," the Yamaguchi Prefecture native said.

He then declared, "We will do our best."

San-en NeoPhoenix
San-en forward Coty Clarke leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He is among the league's top 10 in all three categories. (B.LEAGUE)

Clarke Making a Big Impact for the San-en NeoPhoenix

Power forward Coty Clarke, who appeared in three games for the NBA's Boston Celtics in the 2015-16 season, is a tone-setting force for the NeoPhoenix. He leads the squad in scoring (18.2), rebounding (9.3) and assists (4.3). What's more, he's in the top 10 in the B.League in all three key statistical categories.

A University of Arkansas alum, Clarke suited up for the rival Nagoya Diamond Dolphins in 2022-23. Now the 31-year-old veteran is hungry to lead the NeoPhoenix to success.

After San-en's series-opening win on Saturday, Clarke delivered an upbeat message to the team's fans.

"I would like to thank all the boosters who came all the way to Akita to cheer us on, and to those of you who are cheering us on through the screen, thank you for everything," Clarke told reporters.

He added, "I will continue to fight for you all, [and] I don't know what it is yet, but I believe that we will be a team that will be able to accomplish something, so please continue to support us."

San-en NeoPhoenix
San-en guard Ryusei Sasaki shoots a layup. (B.LEAGUE)

A Display of Focus in the Series Finale

San-en's narrow victory over Akita on Sunday was a grind-it-out display of teamwork.

It also underscored the fact that the team's roster is equipped with a slew of players ready to put their stamp on any given game.

Clarke led the way with 16 points and 15 rebounds. Frontcourt mate Yante Maten and guards Kazuki Hosokawa and Sasaki all finished with 12 points apiece. Filipino guard Thirdy Ravena chipped in with nine points. American center David Dudzinski had seven points and nine rebounds along with three assists.

Swingman Ryuto Yasuoka paced the Northern Happinets with a season-best 23 points, including five 3-pointers.

Akita led 26-20 after the first quarter. San-en climbed ahead, taking a 45-43 advantage into halftime.

Both teams scored 36 points in the second half, and the NeoPhoenix maintained their slight advantage at the end.

Eight San-en players registered an assist, with Maten and 25-year-old point guard Sota Oura, who suited up for the Northern Happinets last season, dishing out four apiece to share the team lead.

After the game, Oura reflected on his performance, which included eight points and 2-for-12 shooting from the floor. He made 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

"I wish I could have played a big role," Oura was quoted as saying by Basket Count, a Japanese-language website. "But it was a game in which I showed my growth to my old team by demonstrating my strengths."

San-en NeoPhoenix
NeoPhoenix head coach Atsushi Ono (right) watches from the sideline on October 29. (B.LEAGUE)

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Ono Gives His Perspective After Sunday's Game

Pleased to emerge victorious on Sunday, Ono acknowledged that the Northern Happinets posed a formidable challenge for his team.

"I told the players in the meeting to play more energetically than their opponent, but I think Akita played harder than us," commented Ono, who coached the Chiba Jets from 2016-22, after the game.

"It was a tough game in which we were behind, but I think we were able to win because we were patient and fought hard for 40 minutes.

Clarke's Thoughts on Saturday's Game

After the NeoPhoenix's 14-point triumph over the Northern Happinets on Saturday, Clarke summed up his team's performance by saying, "It was a hard-fought home game against an aggressive Akita team. But I think we were able to win because we showed energy to beat them, set the pace in the third quarter and played our own basketball."

What else defined San-en's play?

"We were able to win today by focusing on both offense and defense in the second half," the 201-cm Clarke said.

San-en NeoPhoenix
San-en forward Yante Maten is averaging 10.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. (B.LEAGUE)

How the NeoPhoenix Have Fared This Season 

San-en began the season with an 86-75 road win over the Kawasaki Brave Thunders on October 4, then dropped an 84-71 decision in the rematch the next day.

The NeoPhoenix chalked up back-to-back home victories (88-70 and 101-95) over the Kyoto Hannaryz on October 14 and 15. 

On the following weekend, they earned 93-68 and 95-78 wins over the visiting Gunma Crane Thunders. A midweek home game followed on October 25, and the NeoPhoenix topped the Fighting Eagles Nagoya 89-80, getting a big boost from Sasaki, who poured in a season-high 19 points on 8-for-10 shooting and matched Clarke's scoring effort.

San-en NeoPhoenix
NeoPhoenix guard Thirdy Ravena (B.LEAGUE)

A Balanced Scoring Attack is One of San-en's Chief Strengths

As stated earlier, Clarke is the NeoPhoenix's top scorer. But the Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture-based team is far from a one-man scoring show.

Ravena is averaging 14.0 points per game. Dudzinski, a College of the Holy Cross alum, is scoring 13.4 ppg and has made key contributions as a rebounder (8.0 per game). Sasaki (12.0 ppg) and Maten (10.0) are the team's other top scorers. Augmenting the scoring attack are Oura (7.8 ppg) and Hosokawa (7.5).

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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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