A sluggish offensive performance cost Japan in its first game in the final window of FIBA Asia Cup qualifying, a 66-57 loss to China on Wednesday at Angeles City Foundation Gym in Pampanga, Philippines.

The Akatsuki Five struggled to score and put up only 20 points in the first half, while China posted 32. Japan trailed by as many as 22 in the third quarter.

The Japanese offense finally began to click in the final quarter, as the team cut the deficit to six, but tt was too little, too late.

“Overall, China outplayed us and they deserved the win with the way they played today,” Japan head coach Julio Lamas said after the game. “They never trailed us for the entire 40 minutes and that tells how good they were.”

Makoto Hiejima, who sank four 3-pointers, and Kosuke Kanamaru, who hit three, led Japan with 12 points apiece in the Group B matchup.

Forward Zhou Peng finished with a game-high 16 points for China, which is looking to secure a berth in the Tokyo Olympics through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

It was Japan’s first game since a 96-57 win over Taiwan in the first window of Asia Cup qualifying in February 2020.

Among Japan’s two naturalized players, Gavin Edwards got the nod over Ryan Rossiter against China. The former UConn player, who was making his debut with the national team, said he had a tough time getting into a rhythm. He got into foul trouble and later fouled out in the fourth quarter.

“I kind of had trouble in the beginning finding my pace because it was so high tempo,” said Edwards, who finished with eight points and six rebounds in just over 21 minutes on the floor.

“And I was playing out of myself a little bit, but I felt like I kind of found a rhythm towards the end of the second half. Unfortunately, I got into foul trouble. So I think that really hurt the team when we were making a run.”

Japan will face Taiwan on Friday and wrap up the window with another game on Saturday.

The top two teams in each of the six groups will advance to August's Asia Cup, while four additional nations will enter as wild-card teams.

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