TAIPEI – The Japan men’s national team’s quest to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is still alive.
The Akatsuki Five overpowered Taiwan 108-68 in their final first-round game of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers at Taipei Heping Gymnasium on Monday night.
Japan got off to a 0-4 start in the qualifiers, which began last November. But it won its final two contests to earn the third and final spot in Group B to advance to the second round.
Naturalized center Nick Fazekas led Japan with 32 points and 11 rebounds and four other players scored in double figures for the team, which had struggled offensively in the aforementioned defeats.
“I feel excited. Sort of mission accomplished,” said the 33-year-old Fazekas, who was added to the roster for the first round’s final two games along with Gonzaga University forward Rui Hachimura. “We expected to win today. And winning two games in a row, I think everybody was pretty excited.”
On Friday, Japan snapped its winless streak with a dramatic 79-78 upset over powerhouse Australia in Chiba.
“Obviously, I’m happy,” Japan head coach Julio Lamas said. “It was the most important thing for us to go to the second round. We did not necessarily play perfectly in these two games, but I want to say (the players) played excellently.”
Led by Fazekas, Japan dominated in the paint, making 26 of its 33 shots from that portion of the court. The team also knocked down 12 3-pointers.
Guard Makoto Hiejima was another hero of the night for Japan, finishing with 17 points, six assists and five steals. Hachimura poured in 13 points.
For Taiwan (1-5), Pen Chun-yen was 3-for-3 from behind the arc in a 19-point performance.
“We were able to win this big because our team kept attacking throughout the game,” Hachimura said. “And we maintained the momentum going from our Australia game.”
Also on Monday night, Australia defeated the host Philippines 79-48 in a contest that was called off at the end of the third quarter after a massive brawl between the two sides. Thirteen players were ejected, including nine from the Philippines.
With the result, Australia (5-1) finished first and the Philippines (4-2) was the runner-up in Group B.
The 12-team second round of the qualifiers will kick off in mid-September. The top seven countries will reach the World Cup in China next year.