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Japan Splits a Pair of Weekend Home Games in FIBA World Cup Qualifiers

The Akatsuki Five edged Taiwan before falling to Australia in Okinawa.

The Japan men’s national basketball team, continuing its development under new head coach Tom Hovasse, enjoyed a narrow victory and experienced a blowout loss over the weekend.

Japan eked out a 76-71 victory over Taiwan in Okinawa on Saturday, February 26.

The Akatsuki Five then dropped their second weekend game on Sunday, February 27, falling to world No. 3 Australia 80-64 in a 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Group B qualifier at Okinawa Arena.

In the weekend-opening win, starting shooting guard Yudai Nishida paced Japan with 27 points on 9-for-13 shooting. He added three rebounds, three assists and two blocks in a stellar all-around effort.

He made aggressive forays to the basket and also hit outside shots in a performance that demonstrated he’s an up-and-coming player for the national team. He had 14 points in the pivotal fourth quarter, when Japan outscored Taiwan 27-18.

Nishida, who has started all 31 of the SeaHorses Mikawa’s games in the B. League this season and is averaging 11.4 points per game, turns 23 on March 13.

In the fourth quarter, Japan benefited from Nishida’s speed on a smooth left-handed scoop shot that put the hosts in front 62-58 with just under 7 minutes remaining. The 190-cm Nishida also exhibited his court vision moments later while dribbling through traffic on a nifty pass to teammate Luke Evans, who trailed on the play and scored on a layup.

In the final stretch of the game, the score was knotted 69-69 before Nishida converted an inside shot to put his team ahead for good with 1:51 remaining. (Watch game highlights here.)

Taiwan outrebounded Japan 49-38, including 18-6 on the offensive glass.

Hovasse was encouraged by Japan’s mental strength in the tight weekend opener, a game in which neither team led by more than eight points.

"I think when we got down, not a single person put their head down,” Hovasse told reporters after the game. 

“We were all in and nobody was just trying to take over selfishly. It was all about the team, it was all about playing our basketball and I felt that the players are really buying in and to win is huge for this team, just to get our confidence going and to get the games against China from last year out of our minds.”

China routed Japan 79-63 and 106-73 on November 27 and 28 in Sendai.

“It was important for us to win and play better than we did last year and I think we did both,” Hovasse said.

Evans, a naturalized Japanese who plays for the Fighting Eagles Nagoya, chipped in with 17 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Fellow starters Yuki Togashi, Daichi Taniguchi and Keita Imamura added eight, six and three points, respectively. Small forward Takuma Sato provided a spark off the bench with nine points.

Taiwan’s Kuei Yu Chou scored a team-best 21 points.

Australia hammered Taiwan 98-61 on Friday, February 25, also in Okinawa.

Japan is the world’s 37th-ranked men’s team. Taiwan is No. 66.

Australia Powers Past Japan

In Australia’s 16-point win over Japan, the hosts trailed 22-14 after the first quarter and 42-40 at halftime.

Australia held Japan to nine third-quarter points and built a 64-49 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Nick Kay ignited the Boomers with 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Angus Brandt, who plies his craft for the B. League second-division club Kagawa Five Arrows, poured in 14 points and Alex Mudronja and Kyle Zunic each scored 11 for Australia.

"Very proud of the way our guys responded, the way we competed tonight, and the way we represented Australia,” Kay commented. “The last time we were here, we lost to Japan (79-78 in June 2018). Most of the guys weren’t part of that but myself and Angus were and it was nice to be able to get a win back and take pride in the way we played today.”

A day after his big scoring performance against Taiwan, Nishida was held to four points on 2-for-9 shooting. Togashi led the Akatsuki Five with 19 points, including five 3-point buckets. Evans added 11 and Isaiah Murphy, who suits up for the Hiroshima Dragonflies, contributed seven.

Like Taiwan, Australia dominated on the boards against Japan, outrebounding Hovasse’s squad 44-28.

Japan relies heavily on 3-point shooting in Hovasse’s perimeter-based offensive attack, but against Australia his players struggled to hit outside shots consistently (10-for-36 from beyond the arc).

Despite the loss, Togashi was pleased with Japan’s overall effort.

"I think we did a great job playing hard for 40 minutes and I think we stepped up and played better than the last window (the November games against China),” said Togashi. “It was a strong Australia team and some of them are very experienced players. Second half, of course, they played better but I think we played great basketball."

FIBA World Cup qualifying first-round action resumes on June 30 and wraps up on July 4.


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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