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Monday, April 16, 2012

Shining Suns spoil Jets' home finale

Staff writer

FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. — There was a storybook finish to Sunday's Chiba Jets-Miyazaki Shining Suns game. But unlike a Disney-like fantasy for the hosts, the Shining Suns authored a riveting last-second finish, winning 78-76.

Dexter Lyons' buzzer-beating layup accounted for the game's final points. Miyazaki coach Koto Toyama had drawn up a play during a timeout seconds earlier and guard Taishiro Shimizu, who delivered a high lob to Lyons in the post, and Lyons completed it to perfection.

This came just after Maurice Hargrow's jumper had knotted the score at 76-76, sending the Jets fans into a wild frenzy with 2.3 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter at Funabashi Arena.

The game appeared headed to overtime, giving Chiba, a bj-league expansion squad, an even more dramatic finish in its final home game of the 2011-12 campaign.

But Lyons, who had 17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals, had other plans.

"I knew they were going to switch," Lyons said of the Chiba defense. "So all I was concentrating on was catching the pass and finishing. Being a veteran, who's played all around the world, I shot it with poise and the rest is history. An exciting moment."

Takuro Ito led the Shining Suns (21-27), who only dressed eight players, with 19 points; Chiba, meanwhile, had 14 players in uniform before a rowdy crowd of 2,404.

"Our boosters gave us motivation. We are happy to get this win," Toyama told reporters.

Shinnosuke Oishi scored 15 points and drained 5 of 6 3s for Miyazaki, while Lewis Witcher also poured in 15. Shimizu added eight points and two steals. Six Suns had two or more steals, and the visitors finished with 13 takeaways.

Hargrow paced the Jets (18-30) with 25 points. Kensuke Tanaka scored 15 points, adding eight rebounds, five assists and four steals for good measure. Jamel Staten had 11 points and 14 rebounds and Takaki Ishida scored 10 points. Antoine Broxsie had six points and 12 boards.

Hargrow, a stat-stuffer throughout the season, finished with eight rebounds, five assists and four steals.

When it was over, with fans' undivided attention still intact, the Chiba Jets' public relations department showed a 15-minute video featuring highlights from throughout the season, candid moments from practice, interaction between players and coaches, boosters and players — fun stuff spliced together with appropriate music. The video, shot by PR staff member Yoko Watanabe, was well-received and helped ease the disappointment of the loss for the Jets and their fans.

Moments later, each Jets player spoke out to the fans and offered words of gratitude.

Coach Eric Gardow had the microphone first, and summed up the Jets' humble beginnings by saying, "This is just chapter one, but there's more chapters to come. Thank you for being a part of it."

"Thank you for all the support," Staten said. "It's been a fun year. We have four games left, and we're going to try to win all four of them for the fans."

Hiroki Sato repeated Staten's basic message. Then Hargrow took the mic and told the fans: "Minna-san, ai shitemasu (I love all of you)."

Miyazaki held a 44-38 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

Ishida canned a 3-pointer to tie it 60-60 early in the fourth quarter, and Gaston Moliva's jam made it 64-64 with around seven minutes remaining.

The Suns used a key fourth-quarter spurt to pull ahead 73-64 at the 4:52 mark, getting a pair of free throws from Shimizu after a steal from Oishi. Chiba never regained the lead.

"I'm very happy with our guys effort today and yesterday," Gardow said. "We've been playing really good basketball, actually, maybe the last six weeks. The last several weeks, we've won the first game but haven't been able to pull (out) the second."

Chiba plays its next four games on the road to close out the season, starting with a road series against the Ryukyu Golden Kings next weekend. The Jets then travel to play the Iwate Big Bulls on April 28-29.

The final home game of 2011-12 completed months of preparation and behind-the-scenes work for the Jets staff to give the fans a positive experience.

This didn't go unnoticed, as Gardow pointed out in his chat with reporters.

"Really, today was all about them," Gardow said, referring to the fans, "(and) celebrating our first year together."

". . . The first chapter is almost written, but we're not done yet. It's really been a great ride," he added.

Evessa 81, Grouses 78

In Himi, Toyama Prefecture, Osaka delivered a bold reminder that the Western Conference playoff race is not officially over yet as coach Ryan Blackwell's club edged the hosts to complete a two-game sweep.

The Evessa (33-15) sit two games out of first place with two more weeks left in the regular season. The idle Ryukyu Golden Kings (35-13) are still the odds-on favorite, but Osaka remains a strong challenger.

Center Wayne Marshall's 24-point, seven-rebound, four-block effort paved the way for Osaka's too-close-for-comfort triumph. No doubt, Marshall's free-throw shooting — 8-for-16 — also kept fans' attention to the on-court action until the final buzzer sounded.

Fan favorite Cohey Aoki, the Evessa's sensational offseason signing after his longtime club, the Tokyo Apache, vanished from the league, delivered a vintage performance, scoring 16 points while making all five of his free throws and all three of his 3-point shots.

Satoshi Takeda (15 points), Mike Bell (11) and Bobby St. Preux (nine) rounded out Osaka's top scorers.

For Toyama (24-24), Ira Brown led the way with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Masashi Joho scored 18 and Larry Turner had 14.

After the win, Evessa coach Ryan Blackwell reflected on the series and the importance of the two victories against Toyama.

"The race in the West is close and we took care of business," Blackwell said. "We're playing well and getting better at the right time. This team never gets rattled. They stick together and just play regardless of the score or circumstances.

"They encourage one another 100 percent of the time."

89ers 83, Big Bulls 51

In Sendai, Johnny Dukes' do-it-all effort steered the hosts into victory lane in the series finale.

Dukes finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals and one blocked shot. Dan Fitzgerald scored 18 points and Rashaad Singleton made his mark with seven points, eight boards and five blocks.

The 89ers improved to 25-23.

Sendai's Takuya Komoda scored nine points and captain Takehiko "Take" Shimura finished with nine points and eight assists.

The game was tied at 28-28 at halftime, and Sendai dominated the rest of the way, outscoring Iwate 55-23 en route to victory.

"Even in the first half you could see that Johnny was committed to defense and winning: he had two steals, took a couple of charges and had three dunks," 89ers coach Bob Pierce said, sizing up Dukes' first-half impact.

"His intensity — and Take's as well — eventually spread to the entire team."

Pierce highlighted the contributions of Komoda, Daisuke Takaoka and Yoshihiro Tachibana by saying the trio gave the club a "great tag-team effort in the second half that helped us avoid the letdown that cost us the game yesterday."

For Iwate (15-33), Makoto Sawaguchi was the high scorer with 12 points and Thomas Kennedy and Jamal Boykin both had 10.

HeatDevils 105, Phoenix 93

In Hita, Oita Prefecture, the hosts had the better offense in the fourth quarter and salvaged a series split by beating Hamamatsu Higashimikawa.

Wendell White scored a game-high 27 points against his former team and grabbed nine rebounds. Oita center Taj Finger had 21 points and eight boards. Naoto Takushi scored 16 points and handed out nine assists, T.J. Cummings added 14 points, Matt Lottich had a 13-point, three-steal afternoon and Kohei Mitomo dished out nine assists for the HeatDevils (20-28).

Jermaine Dixon paced the Phoenix (33-15) with 17 points, Jeffrey Parmer scored 15, Gyno Pomare poured in 14 and Shoji Nakanishi and Lawrence Blackledge each had 11. Blackledge also had three blocks and three steals for the two-time defending champions.

Lakestars 82, Brave Warriors 68

In Yasu, Shiga Prefecture, Dionisio Gomez's double-double and a well-rounded team effort carried the Lakestars to a win over Shinshu and a series sweep.

Gomez finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds for Shiga, the Western Conference's third place team, which improved to 32-16. Josh Peppers had a 15-point performance and was 7-for-7 at the line. Shiga Prefecture native Yu Okada drained 4 of 7 3s en route to 14 points, while Ray Nixon contributed eight points, three steals and two blocks.

Derek Raivio paced the Brave Warriors (18-30) with 20 points. Lee Roberts scored 18 points, Edward Morris added 13 and Tyler Hughes had 12 points with nine rebounds.

Shinshu missed 17 of its 21 3-point attempts.

Susanoo Magic 85, Northern Happinets 79

In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, bench boss Zeljko Pavlicevic's club played tough defense against Akita's 3-point shooters and bounced back for a win in the series finale.

The Magic held the Happinets to 10-for-37 shooting from beyond the arc, while Akita was 19-for-39 from 2-point range.

Michael Parker had 23 points and 21 boards in the win and B.J. Puckett added 20 points and 11 rebounds for Shimane (26-24). Edward Yamamoto and Micah Williams each scored nine points, the latter also passing out seven assists. Veteran Jumpei Nakama finished with seven points and five assists.

For Akita, Ricky Woods' 41-point game was overshadowed by a loss. He shot 16-for-30 from the field and was 8-for-12 at the free-throw line. Yuki Kikuchi flushed 6 of 10 3s and finished with 18 points and Kyle Swanston rang up 10 points, but was 2-for-10 from long range.

The Happinets (28-22, .560 winning percentage) fell to third place in the East. Coupled with Akita's loss, the Yokohama B-Corsairs (27-21, .563 winning percentage), who hammered the shockingly awful Takamatsu Five Arrows (2-46) on Friday and Saturday in Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, moved into second place.

Hannaryz 90, Albirex BB 82 (OT)

In Niigata, wild swings in scoring highlighted the action after halftime, and Kyoto found the right combinations when it mattered most to earn a series split.

Niigata outscored the visitors 36-13 in the third stanza, but the Hannaryz answered with 24 fourth-quarter points while holding the Albirex to nine, forcing overtime in the process.

In the bonus period, Kyoto coach Honoo Hamaguchi's squad put 16 points on the board, while Niigata had half that total.

Kyoto improved to 31-17. Jermaine Boyette was the Hannaryz catalyst, scoring 24 points and collecting five steals.

Kyosuke Setoyama and Rick Rickert each had 14 points for Kyoto, Taizo Kawabe scored 12 and Babacar Camara chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Erron Maxey led Niigata (26-22) with 16 points and Nile Murry and Chris Holm both had 15, Yuichi Ikeda scored 10 and Shuhei Komatsu nine.

Rizing 75, Broncos 69

In Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, poor perimeter shooting didn't spoil Fukuoka's chances against the hosts. Instead, the Rizing eked out a narrow victory over coach Natalie Nakase's Broncos.

Kevin Palmer guided Fukuoka (30-18) to victory, producing 24 points, 16 rebounds and nine steals in a banner performance. Carlos Dixon added 22 points and Gary Hamilton had 10 points and nine boards.

The Rizing were 2-for-18 on 3-point shots.

The Broncos, meanwhile, committed 23 turnovers and fell to 14-34, the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

John "Helicopter" Humphrey paced Saitama with 26 points. John Flowers added 17 points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks, and also missed all five of his 3-point attempts.

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