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Furukawa drains game-winner as Japan slip past Iraq
Japan looked like they would dictate the tempo early on, leading, 13-8, after the first period, but Iraq’s strong showing in the second quarter gave them a 37-28 halftime lead. Japan would cut this deficit to just 3 points at the end of the third period to set up what turned out to be an intense fourth quarter!
Turning Point: It looked like Japan got the breathing room they wanted after Ryusei Shinoyama gave them a 63-59 lead with 4:03 left in the game, but big man Mohammed Al-Khafaji had other plans. Al-Khafaji hit the next four points for Iraq to tie the game entering the waning moments. Shinoyama once again came through for the Akatsuki Five, giving them a 65-63 edge with just over a minute to go. 40 seconds later, it was Iraq’s Ali Hamad’s turn to put the hero’s cape after his basket drew Iraq level, 65-all. Not long after, we have Furukawa receiving a pass from Makoto Hiejima for the final go-ahead basket.
Stats Don't Lie: In a game so close, the little things made the biggest difference, and, in this particular case, free throw shooting was a crucial factor. Japan’s aggressiveness resulted in their being gifted with 23 total free throws compared to 15 for Iraq. Coach Kenji Hasegawa’s wards made good on 18 of these foul shots, and, looking back, each and every one of those was huge.
Game Hero: It truly is tempting to award this to Furukawa after he hit the game-winner to cap off an 18-point performance, but the fact of the matter is Japan wouldn’t even be in this game if not for Ira Brown. Brown scored only 12 points, but his hustle and energy resulted in 18 rebounds and 8 free throw attempts. If not for Brown playing with so much intensity, Iraq may have probably booked a rather comfortable victory.
The Bottom Line: Japan dodge a bullet here. Iraq looked poised to spring a colossal upset before Shinoyama’s and Furukawa’s heroics in the endgame preserved the win for the Akatsuki Five. Coach Hasegawa must have heaved a sigh of relief by game’s end, but things won’t be any easier tomorrow when they face hosts Iran. As for Iraq, coach Srdjan Antic’s wards don’t have anything to be ashamed of. They gave a fancied Japan squad all they could handle and just fell short in the end. They should be approaching their game against Korea tomorrow with a ton of confidence.