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Japan head coach Julio Lamas gave his players credit for performing well for 35 minutes of the game but said that the remaining five cost his team in a 90-84 loss to China in their FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers in the Philippines on Saturday.

Japan had an 80-73 lead with six and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter but struggled from there against China’s zone defense allowing the East Asian rivals to enjoy a 17-4 run to close out the game.

Three days after a 66-57 loss, Japan competed much better with their own rhythm against the same opponents. The team was hot from behind the arc, shooting 10-for-20 in the first half yet made only four in the latter.

Japan led 45-41 at halftime.

“We played the best 35 minutes in this window but we didn’t play well enough in crunch time,” Lamas said after the game, played at Angeles University Foundation Gym in Pampanga.

Ryan Rossiter agreed with his bench boss, saying: “If you beat a team for 35 minutes, usually you get the win. But like coach said, in crunch time, we didn’t execute and they made the plays. So credit to them.”

Rossiter said that his squad did not necessarily get caught off-guard with China’s zone defense because it had gone through “everything” when scouting the team and at practice. He added that it instead had to do with the Japanese players’ decision-making on the court.

China guard Zhao Jiwei drives to the hoop while guarded by Japan's Daiki Tanaka during their FIBA Asia Cup qualifying contest on Saturday. | COURTESY OF FIBA ASIA CUP
China guard Zhao Jiwei drives to the hoop while guarded by Japan’s Daiki Tanaka during their FIBA Asia Cup qualifying contest on Saturday. | COURTESY OF FIBA ASIA CUP

“We were too passive, we didn’t attack the zone,” said the 31-year-old, who was one of the better players for Japan, tallying 15 points, four rebounds, six assists and three steals. “We just kind of passed the ball around like a high school team.”

Despite the losing effort, diminutive point guard Yuki Togashi came through for the Akatsuki Five in the second half. The 167-cm player scored nine points late in the third quarter and 17 overall, which was a team-high.

For China, which hasn’t missed an Olympic berth since the 1984 Games in Los Angeles yet is currently on the verge of missing out on the Tokyo Games, 212-cm center Zhou Qi recorded a game-high 18 points.

China will try to punch a ticket to the Tokyo Games through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which will begin on June 29.

Japan, in Group B in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifying along with China, Taiwan and Malaysia, ends with a 2-2 record.

The top two teams in each group will advance to August’s Asia Cup in Jakarta. For now, Japan has not officially qualified for the main tournament.

But Malaysia has already withdrawn from the tournament and organizers have not announced how it will deal with games involving Malaysia that didn’t take place.

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