Basketball

Japan beats Palestine to keep Asia hoop quarterfinal hopes alive

Kyodo

Japan took a big step toward the FIBA Asia Championship quarterfinals on Monday, beating Palestine 74-67 to secure its first victory of the second round in Changsha.

With the win over Palestine and a victory over Hong Kong on Tuesday, Japan will likely finish third in its group behind Iran and the Philippines, ahead of Thursday’s quarterfinal round.

Against Palestine, Japan again got an excellent performance from Hitachi Sunrockers big man Joji Takeuchi. The team’s best performer in China, Takeuchi was just one rebound away from a 20-20 game on Monday, scoring 21 points and hauling in 19 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.

Takeuchi is averaging 13 rebounds per game in the tournament, the second most among all players.

Makoto Hiejima scored 13 points and Keijuro Matsui came off the bench for 12 points of his own on Monday.

Palestine was led by Sani Sakakini’s 27-point, 17-rebound effort, but the Palestinian captain was held to just six points in the second half after getting off to a hot start with 21 in the first two periods.

Japan got off to slow start in the game, shooting just 29 percent from the field in the first quarter. Exacerbating the problem, head coach Kenji Hasegawa was unable to get Takeuchi involved, as Japan’s best player in the tournament did not take a shot in the first quarter.

Going into the first break, Palestine held a nine-point lead. However, by midway through the second period, Japan was back in the game. Three 3-point makes in a two-minute span by Ryumo Ono drove a Japan recovery that saw the team leading by seven points with five minutes remaining.

But by halftime, Palestine had again nosed ahead by one point (37-36), on the back of Sakakini’s play.

Japan offset its poor shooting in the first half by dominating on the offensive boards, giving itself 10 extra second-chance scoring opportunities, mostly thanks to Takeuchi’s efforts.

Japan gained separation in the third quarter, stretching the lead to eight points by the end of the period and holding off a late Palestine rally to take the win.

Earlier on Monday, the Philippines handed Iran its first defeat of the tournament and India continued its unexpected run of wins by beating Hong Kong 76-71.

On the other side of the draw, China remains the only unbeaten team in the tournament, with South Korea and Qatar the teams almost certain to reach the next stage.

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