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Japan delivered a gritty performance to bounce back from its early struggles, but wound up losing its opening 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifier.

Point guard Jayson William racked up 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists and former NBA big man Andray Blatche followed with 13 points and 12 rebounds to guide the Philippines past Japan 77-71 in the teams’ first World Cup qualifier at Tokyo’s Komazawa Olympic Park General Sports Ground Gymnasium on Friday night.

Japan is paired with the Philippines, Australia and Taiwan in Group B, and this is the first Asian qualifiers in which they compete in a home-and-away format. The top three teams from each of the four groups will advance to next fall’s second round.

Up next: The Philippines will face Taiwan at home and Japan will travel to Australia to square off against the Aussies, both on Monday night.

“We have high respect for Japan, the Akatsuki Five,” Philippines head coach Vincent Reyes said after the game, which attracted a jam-packed crowd of 3,482. “So we knew we were going to be in for a tough match.”

Japan struggled offensively in the first half, in the opening quarter in particular, suffering from its own miscues and turnovers. Japan had six turnovers in the first quarter alone.

The home team scored only 10 and 18 points in the first and second quarter, respectively. But thanks to the Philippines also having difficulty making jump shots, Japan only trailed 37-28 at halftime.

The hosts finally began displaying their game in the second half, scoring 12 consecutive points at the start of the third quarter, capitalizing on some pick-and-roll plays and quick attacks to take a 40-37 lead.

But the Philippines did not let Japan retain momentum and tenaciously fought back.

After Blatche hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 10-point lead with about 3 minutes, 45 seconds left, William made a jumper and a 3-pointer with under 2 minutes left to help seize control for the Philippines.

Roger Pogoy then sank a layup with about 26 seconds left to seal the deal for the Philippines.

“Our players remained positive even when we lost the lead, and that allowed us to stay in the ballgame,” Reyes said. “And I think eventually we got the victory.”

For Japan, which looks to secure a host-nation spot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by qualifying for the World Cup, Makoto Hiejima scored 20 points, while Daiki Tanaka and Ira Brown had 10 points apiece. Brown had a game-high 15 rebounds.

Japan made only 36.2 percent of its shots from 2-point range.

It was Japan’s sixth straight loss to the Philippines, with the last win coming in 2003.

“We came into the game heavily, but started playing our game afterward,” Hiejima said. “And in the second half, we played just like we would like to play. But in the end, we allowed (the Philippines) to prevail, so we would like to reflect on this and utilize it for our next game.”

Blatche said that he was happy to win it, but added that his team would have to stay focused as the first round of qualifiers continues for several more months.

“We still have a long way to go,” the former Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets player said. “I had a bad game (today), terrible game actually. But I had my teammates, my teammates came through and helped out, and hit some big shots and that’s why we got the win.”

Looking ahead to Monday’s contest in Adelaide, Australia, Japan bench boss Julio Lamas said, “It will be a very demanding game for us. (Australia) are the best team of our pool. And our players have to play almost their perfect game.”

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