Down by 1 point and the shot clock has been turned off. This is when Iran’s Aren Davoudi sank a clutch 3-pointer with just 19 seconds left in the game to give his side a 53-51 lead against the home side. Urged on by their fans, Japan had one last chance to tie the game or take the lead. With the 4th FIBA Asia Cup gold medal on stake, Iran played perfect defense to hold off their opponents, and as the clock expired, they celebrated as first-time winners of this championship in Tokyo on Saturday.
With just 10 teams taking part, this is a smaller tournament than the FIBA Asia Championship. India also took part, and despite some improved and encouraging performances, lost all of their group games to finish at a shared last place (9th) with Macau.
This heart-stopping finale brought to end an entertaining 9 days of basketball in Japan. Iran left with the gold medal and the host team Japan had to settle for silver for the second consecutive time in this tournament.
It was a low scoring final. Iran led by 7 at halftime but Japan made a furious comeback to take a four point lead before the beginning of the final quarter. A defensive final period helped Iran inch on top again in the game’s dying seconds. The tournament’s MVP Samad Nikkah Bahrami of Iran had a team-high 14 points in the final, while Japan’s Kosuke Kanamaru had 16 in a losing effort.
Earlier on Saturday, Qatar defeated the Philippines 79-63 in the bronze medal game to finish at third place in the tournament. Mohd. Yusuf Mohmmed had 17 points for Qatar while Marcus Eugene Douthit added 17 for the ‘Smart Gilas’ Philippines side.
A day earlier, Iran had defeated Philippines 77-60 in the first semi-final and Japan ousted Qatar 73-66.
India was placed in the tough Group B at this tournament, which featured the eventual top three finishers Iran, Japan, and Qatar, as well as Chinese Taipei. Featuring only a couple of experienced vets, India was otherwise a mostly younger squad, led by coach KK Chansoria.
India kicked off the tournament with a face-off against Iran, the eventual winners. But this was going to be no cakewalk for the favourites. India stayed within just 3 points to Iran at halftime and refused to go away until the very end, when a surge by the Middle-Eastern basketball giants saw them win out 83-71. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi – India’s most experienced and best player at this tournament – led the way with 21 points, but it wasn’t enough, as Iran and Samad Bahrami (23) won the first of their seven consecutive games.
Although they were encouraged by their good performance in the loss, India couldn’t make any drastic improvements in their second game against Qatar. Bhriguvanshi was shut down and Qatar dominated the second half towards a 84-63 win.
It was an offensive barrage for India in their third game, against Chinese Taipei. But with loose defense on the other end, India weren’t able to stop their opponents either. Chinese Taipei took a 91-58 lead in the first three quarters before India’s offense perked up in garbage time to give a slightly more respectable 113-88 final score in the loss. Bhriguvanshi led India with 20 points and 12 assists. Youngsters Narender Grewal, Amrit Pal Singh, and relatively new face Rikin Pethani added 18 each. Chinese Taipei were led by Tsung-Hsien Chang (20).
In their final game of the group stage – and the tournament – India played against the host team Japan. Once again, India’s performance was good, but just not good enough. India kept the game close and hovered close to Japan in the first half, even taking the lead briefly towards the end of the second period before Japan got ahead again. In the second half, India once again failed to stay in step with the talented Japanese team, who won 90-72. Bhriguvanshi again led India with 21 points and Pethani added 16 to go with 9 rebounds.
Ousted from proceeding to the final 8 (quarter-final) stage, India and last place finishers of Group A Macau both finished at 9th place in the tournament.
Every dark cloud does have its silver lining. Despite the abysmal record (0-4), India proved that they are getting closer and closer to hanging with the big boys of Asian basketball. Until three years ago, teams like Japan, Iran, or Chinese Taipei, would play India almost as a practice game and blow by the ‘Young Cagers’ to convincing 30-40 points victories. Now, despite the losses, India is making the games closer and more competitive. This tournament provided a lot of valuable experience to a team of great young players such as Amrit Pal Singh, Rikin Pethani, Amjyot Singh, Narender Grewal, Love Neet Singh, and the breakout star from the U18 FIBA Asia Championship Palpreet Singh Brar.
Vishesh Bhriguvanshi, who disappointed in the FIBA Asia Championship last year, played well for India. He led all of Asia in the tournament in assists (6.5 assists per game) and was second in scoring (17.8 points per game). Big man Amrit Pal Singh was a beast on the boards for India and actually led the entire tournament in rebounds (11.5 rebounds per game).
FIBA Asia announced the tournament’s MVP and All Star lineup at the tournament’s conclusion. Three players from the champions Iran side and two from silver medalists Japan made the final five:
- Ryoto Sakurai (Japan)
- Hamed Afagh (Iran)
- Samad Nikkah Bahrami (Iran) – MVP
- Kosuke Takeuchi (Japan)
- Asghar Kardoust (Iran)