Sam Willard notched a triple-double and sank two clutch free throws with 2 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter as the Toyama Grouses edged the Kawasaki Brave Thunders 83-80 in their series opener on Friday night.
Willard, a University of the Pacific alum, finished with 17 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, helping the Grouses (15-37) earn an upset victory at Todoroki Arena.
Kawasaki, which has already clinched the Central Division title, fell to 43-9.
With 3 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, Yuma Fujii nailed a 3-pointer to pull the hosts within 81-80.
Willard was then quickly fouled. After he made both free throws, the Brave Thunders had a final shot at tying the game, but center Nick Fazekas turned the ball over with 1 second to go. Toyama guard Yu Okada made the steal to seal the win.
Okada paced the visitors with 24 points and handed out six assists. Former NBA center Dexter Pittman, a University of Texas alum, contributed 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting and 12 rebounds, while Ryo Yamazaki had eight points. Naoki Uto added six assists as coach Bob Nash’s Grouses moved the ball effectively with 24 assists against nine turnovers.
Toyama, playing without injured leader and former bj-league MVP Masashi Joho (broken hand bone earlier this month; the team announced he’s set to miss the rest of the season), trailed 37-35 at halftime.
Fazekas, the league’s leading scorer (27.8 points per game), had 27 points and 14 rebounds and Fujii poured in 14 points. Takumi Hasegawa scored 10 points and Mamadou Diouf and Ryusei Shinoyama both poured in eight. Shinoyama led the squad in assists (four).
The Grouses outrebounded the Brave Thunders 39-33.