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Friday, Dec. 2, 2011

Jets capitalize as Evessa struggle without Washington

Staff writer

URAYASU, Chiba Pref. — It's absurd to expect the Osaka Evessa to perform at the same level without injured do-it-all leader Lynn Washington, the well-known two-time MVP and famous No. 44 jersey.

News photo
Coming through: Cohey Aoki of the Osaka Evessa attacks the Chiba Jets defense on Thursday night. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

On Thursday, in Osaka's bj-league series opener against the Chiba Jets, the Evessa's performance was, well, far from brilliant. Coach Ryan Blackwell's team played a sloppy, incomplete game and lost its third in a row, falling 75-59.

Power forward Jamel Staten, who also wears jersey No. 44, had a game-changing outing for Chiba, finishing with 18 points, a career-high 24 rebounds, six steals and two blocked shots.

Asked if he knew how many rebounds he had, Staten responded by saying, "Stats don't matter on our team. . . . I just want to go out and play hard."

With 50.6 seconds remaining and his team holding a 22-point lead, Jets coach Eric Gardow inserted five backups into the game and gave Staten a well-earned pat on the back as he returned to the bench.

The Jets took a 10-point advantage into the fourth quarter and comfortably held on for a one-sided triumph at Urayasu Sports Park Gymnasium.

Chiba (9-6) bounced back from a 39-point loss to the Toyama Grouses on Sunday. Osaka sipped to 11-4.

Maurice Hargrow paced the Jets with 22 points, Kensuke Tanaka scored eight, Tomoya Nakamura had seven and Takaki Ishida added six.

Wayne Marshall paced Osaka with 22 and Cohey Aoki had 10, facing tough, rotating defense from Ishida, Tanaka and Hargrow, an assignment Gardow described as "a 40-minute task to keep him down."

After the game, Gardow stated that the Evessa are now coping with an injury that rivals the one the Jets have had to deal with in losing center George Leach to a torn Achilles tendon.

"Losing the best player in the league in Lynn Washington is difficult," Gardow said. "We'd like to see Lynn on the floor as soon as possible."

When it was over, the Jets held a 72-52 lead in rebounds and collected 32 offensive boards. The Evessa shot 24-for-75 from the field.

"The guys have to be more tougher," Blackwell said, issuing a challenging to his players. "They (the Jets) just played more physical than us.

"That's the most disappointing part," the coach added, "and hopefully they'll come out tomorrow a little more aggressive."

Staten's energy, uncanny timing and positioning helped him grab 24 rebounds and make five steals and two blocks through three quarters. At that point, the Jets held a 58-38 edge in rebounds, including 26-13 on the offensive glass.

This energy carried over to his teammates, too. The Jets were scrappy, hungry and hustling throughout the contest.

"When you are playing 40 minutes with defense and energy, you have a good chance to win," Gardow said, though he described it as a bittersweet win due to Washington's absence.

Aoki, who spent the previous six seasons with the Tokyo Apache, was the first player introduced before the game and received a hearty welcome from the fans. The Osaka offense ran through him for much of the intense, but sloppy opening quarter.

Without leading scorer Washington (torn pectoral muscle) in the lineup — he's expected to be sidelined for a month — Osaka made a concerted effort to go to big man Marshall early and often in the low post. It resulted in him making frequent trips to the free-throw-line, including 2-for-9-shooting in the first quarter. Overall, it was a bad shooting quarter as the teams went a combined 12-for-43 from the field.

"Other guys are being asked to step up and make shots," Blackwell said. "They didn't make enough of them."

Osaka trailed 34-31 at the halftime.

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