CHANGSHA, CHINA – Japan defeated Hong Kong 89-62 on Tuesday to confirm a place in the FIBA Asia Championships quarterfinals and put itself just one win away from a spot in the Rio 2016 pre-Olympic qualifying basketball tournament.
Joji Takeuchi and Makoto Hiejima again were pivotal in Japan’s 27-point victory, scoring 17 and 19, respectively, despite each playing just over 20 minutes in the game. Kenta Hirose had his best game of the tournament, scoring 12 points while adding three assists and three rebounds.
“Making the knockout phase was the absolute minimum requirement and we have cleared that,” Takeuchi said after the game. “We didn’t start very well in the second round so we have to do that and raise our game.”
Hong Kong ended the tournament’s first two rounds with just one win. Wong Chun Wai led the team against Japan with 14 points on just six shots.
Japan built an eight-point lead in the first quarter before Hong Kong went on a streak from the 3-point line to take a seven point lead, its biggest of the game.
Japan quickly got back on top, finishing the second period leading by eight. Takeuchi had 15 points and eight rebounds at the half with Japan shooting 53.3 percent from the floor.
Japan turned up the defensive intensity at the start of the second half and Hong Kong could not respond, going on a nine-minute field goal drought to start the third quarter, allowing Japan to build a 26-point lead and ensure Hong Kong would have no chance at causing an upset.
After the game, Japan coach Kenji Hasegawa expressed relief that his team advanced to the quarterfinal stage.
“I think each of the players have realized the role they have to play ahead of the knockout round,” Hasegawa said. “We have to run hard and be thorough in defense and on the boards. If we don’t clear the barrier of the quarterfinals, then there is no next step for us.”
With its third-place finish in its second-round group, Japan’s quarterfinal opponent will likely be Qatar.
Qatar has had an inconsistent tournament in China, losing to Taiwan and Jordan, teams that should have posed no problem for it. But on Monday the Middle Eastern squad had a good win over South Korea, showing they are capable when engaged.
U.S.-born point guard Clinton “Trey” Johnson is the catalyst to Qatar’s success. Averaging 20.6 points per game — third-most in the 2015 tournament — and 3.2 assists, Japan will need to focus its defensive effort on stopping him if it is to finish in Asia’s top four for the first time since 1997.
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