Basketball

Japan falls to 0-3 in Asian qualifiers with one-point loss to Taiwan

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

The Akatsuki Five remain winless in the Asian qualifiers first round for the 2019 World Cup after a 70-69 loss to Taiwan at Yokohama International Swimming Pool on Thursday night.

Taiwan posted its first win of the tournament after it fell to Australia and the Philippines, while Japan dropped to 0-3 in Group B.

Chen Ying-chun and Hu Long-mao led Taiwan with 15 points apiece. Chen grabbed nine rebounds as well. American-born center Quincy Davis III chipped in with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds for the visitors.

Sharpshooter Naoto Tsuji had the hot hand for Japan, going 8-for-13 from 3-point range and scoring a game-high 26 points. But it was not enough to help Japan obtain its first victory of the Asian qualifiers.

Down by two points in the final seconds, Japan shifted its strategy to one of intentional fouls, but Taiwan made the necessary free throws to get away with the big victory.

“I felt pretty good on my shooting throughout the game,” said Tsuji, who has struggled with injuries recently and did not make the national squad for its first two games in November. “But if we don’t get a win, it doesn’t mean anything. We truly wanted to win.”

Tsuji was the only Japanese player who made at least one shot from behind the 3-point arc. The hosts struggled with their shooting overall as well, going just 26-for-70 from the field.

Japan coach Julio Lamas said his players “got the best out of themselves” but the team wasn’t “efficient enough.”

Star guard Makoto Hiejima followed Tsuji with 14 points and American-born power forward Ira Brown, a naturalized citizen, had 12 points and eight rebounds for Japan, which has not made the Olympics since the 1976 Games in Montreal.

The International Basketball Federation has not guaranteed the Japanese men’s team a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It is presumed Japan needs to at least make the 2019 World Cup in Beijing to get a berth at the home Summer Games.

Top three teams in each four-nation group will advance to the second round of the World Cup qualifiers.

Japan will face the Philippines at Mall of Asia Arena on Sunday. The Gilas had beaten Japan 77-71 in Tokyo in their first game of the qualifiers.

“We weren’t able to execute what coach Lamas asked us to do when the game was one the line, and I think that’s why we wound up coming up with this result,” Tsuji said. “But we’ll have to compete against the Philippines soon, so we want to become one and play all out.”

In the other Group B contest, Australia cruised past the Philippines 84-68 in Melbourne to improve to 3-0. The Philippines took the first loss of the qualifiers.