Forward Nikkhah Bahrami scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half to help Iran overcome a 12-point deficit in a 71-65 victory over host Japan in their final first-round game in the fourth FIBA Asia Cup at Ota City General Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
Iran went undefeated (4-0) in Group B and will next face Uzbekistan (1-3), while Japan will take on China (3-1) in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
Japan had a better first half both offensively and defensively, but uncanny Iran, though it is playing in this tournament without 218-cm NBA center Hamed Haddadi, came through in the second half as Bahrami had eight and six points in the last two quarters.
Entering the final period trailing 51-46, Iran finally pulled ahead on a Bahrami 3-pointer inside seven minutes left. Japan tried to retake the lead but Iran maintained its advantage.
“We made some mistakes because we tried so hard to win,” Bahrami said after the game. “We played the toughest game against Japan because they analyzed us very good. But we tried to figure out (how) to execute better in the second half, which is the point of the game.”
Iran had three players with 12 points apiece.
For Japan, captain Ryota Sakurai scored 14 points, while veteran forward Kosuke Takeuchi had 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Kosuke Kanamaru, who had 26 points on Monday against India, contributed 10 points.
“They made an adjustment in the second half,” Japan forward J.R. Sakuragi said. “I don’t think they stopped us. We just had shots we didn’t make (down the stretch).”
Meanwhile, Kimikazu Suzuki, head coach of “Hayabusa Japan,” kept his head up, stating the team’s 3-1 record and how it played with young, inexperienced players throughout the four games in the tournament were to be expected.
“We’ve come so far as planned,” he said. “Our young players have played boldly, which is different from the past. They’re making shots without hesitation.”
Earlier in the day, Lebanon cruised past Uzbekistan 84-49, China demolished Macau 106-46 and Taiwan edged Qatar 75-73. Lebanon, the Philippines and China are tied at 3-1 in Group A, but due to a tie-breaker (goal average), Lebanon qualified after the first round atop the group, followed by the Philippines and China. Uzbekistan was fourth.
Japan entered the tournament setting a goal to be among the final four teams. In order to do that, it needs to beat a tough China team, which consists of players ages 22 or younger.
“We know they didn’t come with the A-team,” Takeuchi said of the Chinese squad. “So it’ll be a shame to lose to them. We want to beat them and get revenge on Iran in the final.”