MANILA – Despite the best efforts of Makoto Hiejima, Japan on Sunday fell to its fourth consecutive loss in Asian FIBA World Cup qualifying, a clutch runner from the Philippines’ Jayson Castro with 10 seconds to go ensuring victory in an 89-84 win in Manila.
Hiejima was one of the few bright spots for coach Julio Lamas’ team, the swingman finishing the game with 23 points on better-than 72 percent shooting from the floor. Ira Brown provided some of the very little back up he received, scoring 16 points.
Japan’s lack of physicality on the boards — the Philippines finished with a 47-29 rebounding advantage, including 19 on the offensive end — along with non-existent bench production gave the Akatsuki Five an uphill battle.
The Philippines’ U.S.-born former NBA player Andray Blatche jumped out of the box score with 18 points and 16 rebounds, but the efforts of Kiefer Ravena and Jeth Rosario, who finished with 13 and 14 points, respectively, made the difference.
With two games to go, one an almost certain loss to world No. 10 ranked Australia, and the other in Taiwan, Japan’s chances of progressing are all but gone. The only remaining hope for Japan is a big win over Taiwan.
Japan started the game off hot, bursting out with a 20-point first five minutes as the home team struggled, but when both coaches went to their benches, the tide turned.
With the score 20-4 midway through the first, the Philippines went on a 30-2 run that extended all the way into the middle of the second period.
When timeouts and sideline remonstrating did nothing to stem the bleeding, Lamas went back to his starters, with Hiejima and Brown bringing some offense to the court and allowing Japan to end the half down by five, at 46-41.
The Philippines built the lead to as many as 15 points in the third quarter, but Japan locked down on defense from the middle of the final period, climbing back into the game and cutting the lead to two with 31.5 seconds to go.
But when Castro’s deep runner dropped, Japan’s run was done.
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