Star point guard Yuki Togashi scored a team-high 12 points, including a key jumper in the final minute, to help Japan take the East Asia Basketball Association Championship group-stage opener with a 78-72 win over South Korea at Nagano Mashima General Sports Arena on Saturday.
South Korea forward Jeon Jun-beom drained a 3-pointer to cut his team’s deficit to just one point with 1:32 left.
But Togashi, a 167-cm player for the B. League’s Chiba Jets, sank a long jump shot on an isolation play with 41 seconds left to give the Akatsuki Five a 75-72 lead. After that, fellow guards Ryoma Hashimoto and Daiki Tanaka added three points combined on free throws to seal the win.
“It feels great to have been able to win before this many fans,” Togashi said. “As we played right after the season, it was a little challenging physically, but we were able to win with the whole team. It was great that we won against South Korea at home in this tough situation to play right after our B. League season.”
Japan, which is in Group A, got off to a 20-9 start but South Korea, which came into the tournament with a young squad, was resilient, capitalizing on its zone defense, and did not let Japan play in cruise mode.
Makoto Hiejima and Ira Brown had 10 points each to chip in for Japan. Yudai Baba, the team’s only collegiate player, showed his presence by scoring eight points.
For the three-time reigning tournament champion South Korea, guard Lee Dae-sung had a game-high 15 points while Kang Sang-jae and Lee Jong-hyun added 12 points apiece.
In the six-team tournament, the top two teams from Groups A and B will advance to the knockout round. The top five teams will earn berths for August’s FIBA Asia Cup in Beirut.
Japan, which is led by interim head coach Luka Pavicevic, will take on Macau at 3 p.m. at the same venue on Sunday.
In the day’s other game, China defeated Group B foe Hong Kong 96-63.