FUNABASHI, Chiba Pref. ― In the final minutes of the Chiba Jets’ 31st game of the season, there was energy on the floor and energy in the stands.
The Jets delighted their fans with some quick action early in the game, and with 1:18 left, Takuma Sato scored on a backhand after getting an offensive rebound, extending his team‘s lead to 31 points. Hustle Plays defined Chiba’s performance on Sunday, March 20.
After the seconds remaining on the game clock, Jets fans stood and cheered, an enthusiastic show of approval for the players’ effort at home, which produced a 103-74 win over the Gunma Crane Thunders at Funabashi Arena.
Defending champion Chiba (25-6) has won eight straight in League B, a reminder of the team’s ability and focus.
The Jets have the best winning percentage (0.806%) among the 11 teams in the East Division. They have also played several fewer games as a result of COVID-19 cancellations. Through Sunday, behind the Jets in the standings but also near the top are: Alvark Tokyo (29-8, eight straight winners, 0.784%), Kawasaki Brave Thunders (30-14, 0.750%) and Utsunomiya Brex (28-12, .700%).
The West Division is led by the Ryukyu Golden Kings (34-4), Shimane Susanoo Magic (30-10) and Nagoya Diamond Dolphins (24-10).
After Sunday’s game, Gunma head coach Tom Wisman paid tribute to his opponent.
“They were too good yesterday and today,” Wisman commented.
The Jets recorded an 88-75 win in Game 1 of the series on Saturday.
A day later, Wisman was confident the Jets remained an outstanding team nearly 10 months after winning their first League B title.
“For me, Chiba is the better team because of their depth,” Wisman said in a post-match interview with reporters.
The Jets played the weekend series without starting big man John Mooney, a University of Notre Dame alumnus, and starting guard Shuta Hara due to injuries.
Veteran swingman Christopher Smith made his third straight start and finished with 24 points and eight rebounds. The Utah State product has come off the bench in his first 27 appearances this season.
Raita Akaho, a striker and fullback born in Ishikawa Prefecture, also made a rare start, a speedy 23-year-old with boundless energy. Akaho didn’t score a point but had a steal and a blocked shot and was aggressive in defense.
Defense pays for throws
As a team, Chiba’s defense was a disruptive force, never allowing the Crane Thunders (16-20) to get into an attacking rhythm. The Jets forced 19 turnovers. They made 13 interceptions, eight players getting at least one, including three by Gavin Edwards and two each by Josh Duncan, Yuki Togashi and Sato.
“They did a great job on us today in defense,” said Wisman, whose team was also missing a few key players through injury, including point guard Kei Igarashi.
Ono said his team’s energy was excellent throughout the match. He cited effective ball pressure as “one of the keys” to victory.
He also said his team was aggressive while struggling for rebounds, which resulted in a 17-3 advantage in second-chance points. The hosts held a 43-26 overall advantage in rebounds.
Rock-solid power forward Duncan, who joined the Jets in 2018, had a game-high 26 points on 9-for-10 shooting with five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. The former Xavier University (Ohio) was 7 for 7 at the foul line.
Edwards, another Jets mainstay (since 2017) contributed 22 points and seven rebounds. Captain Togashi had nine points and seven assists, including several of the dazzling variety much to the delight of fans.
Trey McKinney-Jones led Gunma with 16 points and former Jets forward Michael Parker had 14.
Chiba moves away as the game progresses
The Jets took a 26-24 lead in the second quarter, and it was a positive sign for the defending champions that Smith (10 points), Duncan (seven) and Edwards (six) had already asserted themselves on offense.
It was a preview of how the game would play out.
Duncan had nine points in the second quarter, the best of either team, and helped lift the Jets to a 54-42 advantage. Gunma’s Tensho Sugimoto sank a 3-pointer with 3 seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to a dozen points.
Once play resumed, the Crane Thunders were unable to reduce their lead in the third quarter and Chiba led 73-57 going into the final period.
Former Jets shooting guard Shannon Shorter brought veteran intelligence and all-around excellence to the team during their championship season (11.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists), appearing in 29 of his 54 regular season games as a starter. Likewise, Smith provides a similar impact off the bench, as an energizing playmaker at both ends of the pitch.
Duncan said there was a striking parallel between how the first and second impacted his team.
“Chris is doing the same this year,” Duncan said. “He fits in well with the team, a selfless guy…and he helps us win games.”
Smith, who had two season-best games with 26 points, including against Levanga Hokkaido on March 16, leads Chiba in scoring (16.1 points per game). Duncan is No. 2 (14.6), followed by Togashi (13.5).
Duncan is the Jets’ leading rebounder (7.5) and Edwards is second (6.2).
Togashi leads the team in assists (6.5), with Smith being their second best passer (2.8).
A season ago, Chiba was 43-14 heading into the playoffs.
Asked by this reporter to make a comparison between the current Jets team and the 2020-21 team, Duncan said he thought there were similarities.
“We try to focus just on what we have this year, but I think it’s best when teams keep improving,” Duncan said. “We’ve worked hard all year and it’s now that it really counts, towards the end of the season, to finish strong. And that’s what we’re trying to do now, and have a good run leading into the playoffs. [in May].”
around the league
Of the 11 Saturday-Sunday series in the B. League, nine of them featured back-to-back wins by the same team.
A look at the two-game sweeps:
- Shimane Susanoo Magic defeated Toyama Grouses 79-75, 87-56.
- The Kawasaki Brave Thunders outscored the Akita Northern Happinets 94-79, 90-83.
- Ibaraki’s Robots defeated Niigata Albirex BB 74-54, 79-76.
- Kyoto Hannaryz prevailed over Shiga Lakestars 102-96, 79-57.
- Alvark Tokyo triumphed over Hiroshima Dragonflies 100-89, 74-66.
- The Mikawa SeaHorses beat the Shibuya Sunrockers 93-79, 93-74.
- Nagoya Diamond Dolphins defeated Shinshu Brave Warriors 82-65, 81-66.
- Ryukyu Golden Kings defeated Osaka Evessa 86-65, 90-85.
Elsewhere, the San-en NeoPhoenix picked up a rebounding 82-68 victory over the Yokohama B-Corsairs on Sunday. Yokohama won the first game on the road, 79-68.
Defending champion Utsunomiya Brex got back on track with a 74-66 decision over visiting Levanga Hokkaido on Sunday. Hokkaido had triumphed a day earlier, 98-89.
Author: Ed Odeven
Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward’s [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sunday, in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter ＠ed_odevenand find it on the JAPAN Forward sports website, SportsLook.