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Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011

Phoenix edge B-Corsairs in overtime to win opener

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — First games are supposed to be memorable, and there was nothing uneventful about Saturday's Yokohama B-Corsairs-Hamamatsu Higashimikawa Phoenix season-opening clash at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium.

News photo
Opening setback: B-Corsairs guard Marcus Simmons drives to the basket during the team's inaugural game against the Phoenix on Saturday in Yokohama. The Phoenix won 63-62. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

The first game in B-Corsairs history wasn't decided in the typical final minute. It required bonus play — overtime — to decide a winner.

The two-time defending bj-league champion Phoenix were the better team at the end as veteran poise produced a 63-62 victory for the Eastern Conference powerhouse.

Yokohama coach Reggie Geary spoke about defense being his top priority in the opener.

"We know this is an experienced ball club," Geary said of the Phoenix, "so we were just trying to contest every shot and limit (them) to one shot."

He said he was pleased with his team's defensive effort, including holding the Phoenix to 4-for-24 on 3-pointers, but "unfortunately we wasted that effort by not doing some other things."

As an example, Geary pointed to 2009-10 Final Four MVP Masahiro Oguchi's two overtime steals as plays that a reigning champion makes.

In the fourth quarter, it was tied 52-52 entering the last minute.

Hamamatsu's James Peters missed the first of two foul shots with 55.1 seconds remaining, and then the second one, too.

After a timeout, B-Corsairs veteran forward Taketo Aoki's jumper was off the mark and the score remained knotted at 52 with 12.3 seconds left.

The B-Corsairs had a chance to win it on their final possession of the fourth quarter, but Kenji Yamada's shot missed.

In OT, center Chas McFarland's putback put the B-Corsairs ahead 57-55 and, after a McFarland blocked shot at the other end, captain Masayuki Kabaya was at the free-throw line with 2:27 left to try to extend the lead. He made the second of two shots, increasing the lead to three. Hamamatsu rallied and took a 59-58 lead on Wayne Arnold's rainbow jumper with about 1 minute left. A pair of Oguchi free throws gave the visitors a three-point advantage, and the B-Corsairs vied to regain the edge down the stretch.

After a jump ball, guard Yamada sank a 3-pointer to pull Yokohama within 63-62 with 3.9 seconds left. But time ran out on before the B-Corsairs had a chance to take another shot.

That made Phoenix coach Ryuji Kawai a winner in his first game at the helm. He said his team struggled Saturday finding the right combinations of foreign players and Japanese, but admitted Sunday's rematch won't be easier.

"This is a new team and a new challenge," Kawai said, speaking about taking over for former coach Kazuo Nakamura, the new Akita Northern Happinets bench boss.

Kabaya echoed similar words about his team, talking about the adjustment period for his team's foreigners to bj-league style.

For Yokohama's Marcus Simmons, the game was a positive introduction to the league but a disappointment, too.

"We played a great game," he said. "We played hard all night. It came down to the end, the last shot at the end of regulation . . . (and then overtime).

"As coach said, we made lot of mental errors and missed shots," Simmons added.

Peters led Hamamatsu with 23 points and 14 rebounds. Jeffrey Parmer scored 18 points and Wayne Arnold had 15. For Yokohama, Justin Burrell had a team-high 12 points, Simmons added 11 and McFarland and Yamada had 10 apiece. McFarland led the B-Corsairs with 16 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Three foreigners— Arnold, Peters and Parmer— scored 37 of Hamamatsu's 40 points through three quarters. Credit Yokohama defenders for playing tough against their Phoenix counterparts, but Hamamatsu made adjustments to edge the hosts.

Hamamatsu regained its rhythm in crunch time, as the team mounted a comeback in the final six minutes, closing to within 49-46 on a Parmer 3-pointer. Then he made it a one-point game on a layup near the 4:20 mark.

Phoenix center Atsuya Ota's putback tied it at 50-50 with just over 3 minutes to play. McFarland answered with a short shot that spun around on the rim before falling through for a 52-50 lead. Peters tied it seconds later on a pair of free throws as the crowd got more animated with time winding down.

Rookie forward Burrell, who wrapped up his college career at Big East school St. John's last season, scored the first points in B-Corsairs history, nailing a jumper just under the 8-minute mark of the opening quarter. That cut the Hamamatsu lead to 5-2. Burrell fouled out in the fourth quarter but played a hard-nosed, aggressive game.

Hustling and showing nice energy, Yokohama used a quarter-opening 5-0 run, including Taketo Aoki's baseline jumper, to take a 21-16 lead into the second quarter.

As expected, the first half turned slopped a times; the teams combined for 21 turnovers before intermission (Yokohama had 11). The B-Corsairs held a 26-24 edge in rebounds in the first two quarters, though, and got six points apiece from Aoki and Simmons.

After a back-and-forth third quarter, the B-Corsairs took a 42-40 advantage into the final stanza.

Elsewhere Saturday, the visiting Sendai 89ers defeated the host Iwate Big Bulls 77-58 in Morioka. It was the first game in Iwate history.

"Great leadership from (guards) Take (Takehiko Shimura) and Hikaru (Kusaka)," 89ers coach Bob Pierce told The Japan Times after the game. Their game experience made a huge experience vs. an expansion team."

He added: "Great to get that first win for the boosters and the city of Sendai."

Pierce said Sendai newcomers Johnny Dukes and O'Neal Mims made a big difference on the defensive end, contributing for more than 10 blocked shots.

The host Niigata Albirex BB, meanwhile, defeated the expansion Shinshu Brave Warriors 98-75.

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