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Thursday, March 10, 2011

BJ-LEAGUE

Akita edges Tokyo in close game


Staff writer

Playing their third game in five days, the Tokyo Apache and Akita Northern Happinets both faced a formidable challenge to be the aggressor, the tone-setting club when it mattered most. The team with more energy for longer spurts has greater odds of winning the bj-league series opener, conventional wisdom states.

The Happinets had a 10-hour bus ride on Tuesday to reach Tokyo, but the fatigue factor really didn't show.

In short, Wednesday evening's action at Yoyogi National Gymnasium produced one of the greatest regular-season contests in bj-league history.

It ended this way: Akita 100, Tokyo 98 in double overtime, where every possession, pass, shot, block, assist, rebound and movement of players had a chance to decide the final outcome; indeed, a war of attrition in the OT periods.

The Happinets improved to 12-27.

Sek Henry had a game-high 42 points for Akita, 19 in the two OTs. Cohey Aoki's 24 led Tokyo.

With 3:15 left in the third quarter, for instance, Tokyo held a two-point lead. Just over two minutes later, Paul Butorac's layup gave the visitors a 57-56 lead after Henry's off-balance jumper on the team's previous possession, and the Apache trailed 59-56 entering the fourth quarter.

Antonio Burks drained a pair of 3s early in the fourth to extend the Happinets' lead to 65-56. Tokyo forward Michael Chappell's driving layup cut it to 65-58. The Apache then caught a break when Butorac bricked two free throws, followed by Robert Swift's inside hoop and a subsequent free throw with 7:54 left cut it to four. Seconds later, Aoki was fouled while shooting a 3; the most successful free-throw shooter in the league's history (nearly 90 percent) stepped to the line and only made the middle free throw.

Jeremy Tyler's post-up move produced a hoop and a 3-point play to trim it to 67-65. His bank shot tied it at 67-67 as part of a 9-2 Tokyo run.

With 4:25 left, Aoki made up for his missed free throws by draining a go-ahead 3-pointer as Tokyo took a 72-70 lead. Henry's steal and layup tied it at 72-72 with about 2:30 left.

Chappell, who knows all about March Madness having played college ball at NCAA powerhouses Duke and Michigan State, converted a layup but air-balled a free-throw with 43.8 seconds left. It was a zany game like that, with several improbable plays, but a number of superb plays as well.

After Akita worked the ball around, first to Will Graves, whose shot was blocked on a possession moments earlier while facing tight double-team coverage down low from Apache center Robert Swift and Chappell, Henry missed a 3. But Jung Seyoung grabbed the offensive board, went to the line with 28.1 seconds left, sank both shots and tied it again

Tokyo missed three chances to win it in the final possession of the fourth quarter: a Jumpei Nakama jumper, an Aoki drive and Swift's tip-in at the buzzer. That forced overtime; at that time the teams were a combined 25-for-46 at the charity stripe.

With 11.3 seconds left in the first overtime, Akita got the ball after Tanaka's miss and Henry forced double OT with a 3 from the right corner.

With 2.5 seconds left in the second extra period, Tokyo (19-14), losers of four straight, had one last shot to win, but Nakama missed a 3 just before the final buzzer.

Apache coach Bob Hill said, "We had a tough time this season. Our players were tired and it showed tonight. They showed a lot of heart staying in the game and I'm really sorry they lost."



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