The Bay Area Dragons secured the bronze medal at EASL Champions Week after a convincing win over tournament hosts Ryukyu Golden Kings in the third-place game.
The Golden Kings were coming off a tightly-contested victory yesterday over P. LEAGUE+ champions Taipei Fubon Braves, which slotted them into the third-place game.
Ryukyu big man Jack Cooley has been leading the way for his team, averaging 22 points a game. However, he was not in the lineup Sunday as Golden Kings head coach Oketani Dai elected to have Allen Durham and Josh Duncan as his import players instead.
Meanwhile, the Dragons were also coming off a close win, beating defending B.LEAGUE champions Utsunomiya Brex on their home court on Friday to punch their ticket into the medal rounds.
The Dragons leaned heavily on their two former NBA pros throughout Champions Week, as Myles Powell and Andrew Nicholson have combined for 57 percent of their scoring in the tournament.
The third-place game started as a low-scoring affair as the teams combined to shoot just 31 percent from the field, for a total of 30 points, in the first quarter. However, the Dragons came out roaring in the second frame. Powell led the charge, scoring 17 points in the first half and helping his team go up 44-28 at halftime.
After playing on consecutive days, the Golden Kings’ fatigue showed in the third, as they were outscored once again, this time by seven. In the end, the Dragons wrath was too great and they cruised to a win by a score of 90-70. Powell led the way with a game-high 29 points, while Nicholson chipped in 18 points.
After the game, Dragons forward Hayden Blankley said a powerful speech by coach Brian Goorjian after the team’s first-game loss to Seoul SK Knights had inspired a turnaround in the next two games: “Once we knew that we couldn’t make first place, this was our goal. Coach has been in a similar position before with the Australian team with their [Tokyo 2020 Olympics] bronze medal. So he gave us a speech that was really motivating and for the two days since we lost, we knew this was our goal and we wanted to go out on a high.”
As for the hometown side, Ryukyu Golden Kings’ journey at EASL ChampionsWeek comes to a disappointing end. The team’s shooting struggle impacted their game today. Durham was the team’s leading scorer, recording 19 points.
After the game, Durham said struggles in the first half had left the Golden Kings with too big a mountain to climb: “In the first half we had eight turnovers and that led to a lot of fast break points, and giving a team like Bay Area easy points like that, that's going to make it tough for anybody they play. In the second half we cleaned it up a little bit, but they were playing with the lead so that made it really tough for us to get back inthe game.”
Golden Kings’ coach Oketani said his team had gained a lot from playing in EASL Champions Week, especially inplaying against high quality opposition: “I think we have a lot of benefit from this championship because we couldn’t experience such high level games in our local B.LEAGUE, with [such] strong defences and high level players.”
Coach Oketani said his team’s frustration with losing this game would be added motivation for the seasonahead – the Golden Kings want to come back for another go at the EASL: “We feel frustration, we wanted to win the game. So this is the motivation for our regular season in B.LEAGUE. We want to come back again, and we want to win.”