CHANGSHA, CHINA – Joji Takeuchi carried Japan to an important 83-65 victory over India in the final preliminary round group game of the FIBA Asia Championship on Friday.
Takeuchi delivered a 22-point, 19-rebound performance, shouldering a big load to ensure that Japan would advance to the second round by finishing second in Group A.
Playing every minute of the game, Takeuchi shot 50 percent from the floor, even making his one 3-point attempt.
“At the start we were being outrebounded, but our guards did a great job, helping us out, (Yuta) Tabuse in particular. He gave the team a lift,” Takeuchi said.
Makoto Hiejima continued to round into form, posting 19 points on just 13 shots and adding six assists. Veteran point guard Yuta Tabuse had his best game of the tournament, scoring 10 points and handing out eight assists, but more impressive were his seven rebounds, a great effort for a player that stands at just 173 cm.
“Today was a match that we had to win at all costs,” Tabuse said after the game. “Hopefully we can build on this victory.
“We’re going to continue to have games where we have to stop our opponents getting a lead. We have to try hard on the boards and in defense and try to play to our strengths.”
Japan got off to a slow start in its third game of the championships, falling behind by 11 points early in the first period before getting back on track to cut the deficit to three at the end of the first quarter.
Japan took a 39-32 lead into halftime.
India got a 24-point, eight-rebound, five-assist performance from captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, while Amjyot Singh added 19 points and 10 rebounds. But the two leading scorers did not get enough support as India was overwhelmed by a Japan team that finally looked to be clicking after a poor start to the tournament.
Iran saw off Malaysia earlier on Friday to secure the top place in Group A, ensuring it would advance with Japan and India to the second round that starts on Sunday.
The next phase will see Japan facing Group B teams Palestine, the Philippines and Hong Kong. Unbeaten Palestine has been the surprise package of the tournament in its first two games, having already beaten the more fancied Philippines and Kuwait.
Japan head coach Kenji Hasegawa will focus his charges on beating Hong Kong in the second round. With four of the six teams advancing to the quarterfinals, Japan will need to win at least one of its three second-round games to progress.
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