INCHEON, South Korea (AFP) – Makoto Hiejima finished with a perfect 100 percent record from the field as Japan put a huge dent in China’s hopes of retaining their Asian Games basketball crown with a shock 79-72 win Saturday.
Hiejima hit nine from nine two-point attempts and one from one from outside the arc in his match-leading 23-point haul at Hwaseong Gymnasium.
His only blemish was that he managed only two out of three from the free-throw line.
With Japan almost certain to beat minnows Mongolia in their last quarter-final Group G match on Sunday, it means China face the daunting prospect of having to beat Iran, the pre-tournament favourites, on Sunday to have any chance of making it to the last four on points difference.
Iran hammered Japan 82-59 on Friday and crushed Mongolia 107-69 on Saturday to top the group.
China have contested every Asian Games final since 1978, winning seven golds and two silvers, and failure to get to the last four – only the top two from Group G will progress – would signal a changing of the guard in Asian basketball.
Iran have not lost yet in Incheon and will be a daunting prospect for an inexperienced China side who are rebuilding under coach Gong Liuming after their defeat to South Korea at last year’s FIBA Asian Championship.
Iran’s outstanding centre Hamed Haddadi, formerly of the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA, has been the player of the tournament so far.
The bad news for China is that he now plies his trade for Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles in the Chinese Basketball Association, so will know his young opponents inside out.