CHANGSHA, CHINA – Japan shocked Qatar in the FIBA Asia Championship quarterfinal on Thursday, using a 81-67 win to advance to the tournament semifinals for the first time since 1997 and move just two wins away from direct qualification to the 2016 Rio Olympic basketball tournament.
At a minimum the semifinal berth guarantees Japan one of three places in the pre-Olympic qualification tournament to be held ahead of the 2016 Olympics.
Japan rode scrambling defense to the win over its more highly-rated opponent, stifling Qatar’s high-scoring backcourt while using excellent ball movement and pace to keep its offense producing points.
Japan got a heroic quarterfinal effort from Takatoshi Furukawa. The Link Tochigi Brex player scored 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting from the floor and 4 of 9 from 3-point range, having his best game of the tournament at the right time.
The steady Makoto Hiejima-Joji Takeuchi combination was huge again. Hiejima scored 17 and Takeuchi poured in 15, but the most influential player might have been Yuta Tabuse. The diminutive point guard showed great poise to marshal his team to the win.
Tabuse finished with 12 points, six assists and three rebounds.
“Everyone, including the guys on the bench, showed that they were trying to carry out their roles,” said Tabuse after the game.
“Japan has a chance to beat anyone, but we can’t be satisfied with this, we have to go all the way to the top.”
Qatar’s key man, Clinton Johnson, had a quiet game, but still finished with 16 points, below his tournament average. Mohamed Hassan A Mohamed scored 13 and Mohd Mohamed 12.
Hasegawa said after the match that he was particularly happy with the aggression shown by his players.
“The team did really well. It was the result of the effort put in by all the players, including those on the bench, and that pleases me,” he said.
Japan could not have asked for a better start to the game. Kenji Hasegawa’s team switched between 3-2 and 2-1-2 zone defenses from the outset, packing the paint and daring Qatar’s backcourt to shoot from the outside. And it worked, with Qatar struggling to make a shot.
The long rebounds off Qatar’s misses also put Japan into transition and allowed it to get quick and effective shots amid its opponent’s scrambled defense. It all played out with Japan stretching to a 15-point lead by the end of the first quarter, 28-13.
Japan’s good early shooting cooled somewhat in the second quarter, but the team kept the scoreboard ticking over by getting to the free-throw line regularly, making 11 from 15 attempts in the first half.
Johnson was clearly the focal point of Japan’s defense. He was held to just five shots in the first quarter, three of which he made. Qatar shot just 2-for-10 from beyond the arc in the half, shots that Japan was happy to see its opponent hoist because when Qatar did force the ball inside its players were much more successful, hitting 10 of 15 in the paint.
At half time Japan led 46-32.
If Qatar was going to get back into the game in the second half, it would have to start at the defensive end, but if anything the Gulf-based squad got worse, allowing Japan two easy layups at the start of the second half.
Qatar got as close as eight points in the final period, and despite a few tense moments, Japan’s players held their nerve for a famous victory.
Japan’s opponent in the semifinal will be the winner of the last quarterfinal between the Philippines and Lebanon, with the Philippines the heavy favorite to advance. Japan lost a close game to Philippines 73-66 on Sunday, Sept. 27, in the tournament second round.
In the first quarterfinal played on Thursday, a monster 18-point, 14-rebound game from Hamed Ehadadi carried Iran past a disappointing South Korea 75-62. Iran dominated on the boards, leading the rebound count by 20, and choked South Korea’s offense, which shot an abysmal 2-for-13 from behind the 3-point arc. Iran’s win sets up an enticing semifinal with the unbeaten China, assuming the hosts account for India later on Thursday.
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