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Korea’s poise carries them past Iraq and into the Final
TEHRAN (FIBA Asia Challenge 2016) – Iraq provided a very stiff challenge against Korea, but the Koreans’ poise in the endgame proved to be the difference as they prevailed, 78-72, in the Semi-Finals of FIBA Asia Challenge 2016 in Tehran, Iran.
Iraq kept in step with Korea the whole match, even taking a 3-point lead into the fourth quarter, but a few defensive lapses, turnovers and ill-advised fouls eventually did them in. Good games from Mohammed Al-Khafaji and Kevin Galloway were wasted here as Iraq couldn’t close out their East Asian foes. Korea, meanwhile, were carried by their frontline pairing of Kim JongKyu and Lee SeoungHyun as well as speedy guard Kim SunHyun. They will move on to face hosts Iran for the tournament championship.
Turning Point: Iraq trailed by just 3 points at 67-64 with under three minutes left. That was still a manageable deficit given the remaining time, but indecision on offense by Ali Hamad led to a crucial Korean steal. Hamad couldn’t let Korea score easily on the fastbreak, so he committed an ill-advised unsportsmanlike foul with 2:43 left. Korea converted on one of two free throws and hit a long jumper in the ensuing play to double their advantage, 70-64. That stymied any and all momentum Iraq had and pretty much turned the tide permanently in favor of Korea till the final buzzer.
Stats Don't Lie: Korea pride themselves on their shooting and ball movement, and the numbers supported these perceived strengths in this game. Korea’s playmaking was in top form as they assisted on 18 of their 29 made field goals. Coach Hur Jae’s wards also shot 32% from beyond the arc, hitting 8 three-pointers compared to only 4 for Iraq. Most of these came from Heo IlYoung, who nailed 6 of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc.
Game Hero: SunHyung scored just 9 points on 3-of-5 field goal shooting, but he compensated by being a superb floor general and a tenacious defender. He was the main catalyst for Korea’s sublime ball movement as he tallied 9 assists. This was on top of his 3 steals and 4 rebounds. He will have to step up to another level, however, if Korea are to stand a chance against powerhouse Iran.
The Bottom Line: As expected, this turned out to be a tight and hotly-contested affair. Iraq had their chances to close out their foes, but they just committed too many miscues in crunch time. Now coach Srdjan Antic’s wards will play Jordan tomorrow for the last spot on the podium. Korea, for their part, are ready to take some measure of payback tomorrow against Iran, which beat them badly to end group play on Day 6.