Basketball

Iran Outplays Japan to Secure Spot in FIBA Asia Cup Quarterfinals

The Akatsuki Five still have a shot at reaching the final eight, with a qualifying contest on Tuesday set to determine the team’s fate.

Iran center Hamed Haddadi surveys his options on offense as Japan's Luke Evans and Yuta Watanabe defend in a FIBA Asia Cup Group C game on July 17 in Jakarta. (FIBA.BASKETBALL)

Iran built a 14-point lead by halftime and extended the margin to 22 points entering the fourth quarter en route to an 88-76 victory over Japan in the teams’ final Group C game at the FIBA Asia Cup on Sunday, July 17.

With the win, Iran improved to 3-0 and clinched an automatic spot in the 16-nation tournament quarterfinals in Jakarta.

Japan (2-1), which finished second in Group C, will meet Group D third-place finisher the Philippines (1-2), which fell 92-75 in an encounter with New Zealand on Sunday night, on Tuesday with a berth into the quarterfinals on the line. (For the Philippines, brothers Kiefer and Thirdy Ravena, who play in the B.League had 17 and seven points, respectively. Teammate Bobby Ray Parks, who also plays in Japan’s pro league, added 10 points.)

For Iran, former NBA center Hamed Haddadi, a powerful 218-cm presence in the middle, scored 21 points on 10-for-15 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds against Japan. He added four assists and three blocks. Teammate Behnam Yakhchali, who plays for the German Basketball Bundesliga’s Mitteldeutscher BC, also had 21 points. Mohammad Jamshidi poured in 20 points.

Iran outrebounded Japan 44-31 and had a 44-28 advantage in points in the paint.

“We had a hard time stopping them,” Japan coach Tom Hovasse said. “We had a hard time scoring, so we’ve had a couple games like this, one against Australia and against China [in FIBA World Cup qualifiers], when we have a hard time getting into the paint [on offense] and finishing and we kind of lose a little bit of our balance and rhythm to our offense.”

Yakhchali Ignites Iran’s Offense

Yakhchali had 12 points by the end of the first quarter, playing an instrumental role in his team’s strong start. By halftime, he had 18 points.

The Iranians used a 17-3 scoring spurt to open the second quarter to take a 44-27 lead with 3:49 remaining before halftime.

For Japan, Yuta Watanabe scored 11 of his team-high 17 points in the first half.

The Akatsuki Five made 6 of 18 3-point attempts in the opening half. Two days earlier, Japan drained a FIBA Asia Cup record 27 3-pointers out of 52 attempts in a 117-56 win over Syria.

Against Iran, Japan finished 6-for-24 from beyond the arc.

Watanabe (1-for-7), Yuki Togashi (2-for-7) and Keisei Tominaga (1-for-6) made a combined 4 of 20 3-point shots in Japan’s loss.

Turnovers Costly for Japan

Japan also struggled against Iran’s defensive pressure and turned the ball over 14 times, but had only four giveaways in the second half. The Akatsuki Five handed out 16 assists.

“We’ve got to get better at attacking that type of defense,” Hovase said after the game. 

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“We just didn’t play well. We never really got into a rhythm and Iran was a big part of that. They are a veteran team. They had a couple mismatches, obviously in the low post with just the size. … It just felt like an uphill battle from the beginning, and when we couldn’t score in the second and third quarter, it was really difficult for us.”

Japan power forward Soichiro Inoue was 4-for-4 on 3s in a 12-point effort off the bench. Tenketsu Harimoto added nine points and Kai Toews had eight points and eight assists without a turnover, while Togashi, Tominaga and Yudai Nishida all scored seven points.

Iran coach Saeed Armaghani said, “We knew that playing against Japan is very difficult because they have many good shooters. But I believe that we played very well on defense and because of good defense we had good rhythm in offense and we could control the game.”

Buoyed by a spirited effort at both ends of the floor, Japan outscored Iran 30-20 in the fourth quarter.

“We got some [defensive] stops, we were scrappy,” Hovasse commented. “Obviously, we were being super aggressive, because the game was getting out of control, so I loved how we ended the game, and we just have to learn from it and get better.”


Author:  Ed Odeven

Follow Ed on JAPAN Forward's [Japan Sports Notebook] here on Sundays,  in [Odds and Evens] here during the week, and Twitter @ed_odeven.

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