The first window of the FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers 2021 is underway and hosts Bahrain managed to come from behind to beat higher-ranked India with a thrilling 68-67 one-point victory.
India led by as many as 12 points, 40-28 in the second quarter, before Bahrain started gradually wiping away the deficit.
India continued to lead 67-61 with 50 seconds left, and 67-63 with 11.9 seconds left, but its inability to score crucial free-throws down the stretch proved fatal.
"It's hard to win when you shoot 12/21 [from the line]," India Head Coach Veselin Matic said after the game. Besides missed free-throws, another key team statistic that hurt India are points conceded off turnovers. India gave up 16 points in this department, compared to 9 for Bahrain.
Two of those nine misses came in India's penultimate possession when it was up 67-65. The culprit was Prasanna Venkatesh, who otherwise had an efficient game off the bench, scoring 10 points in the second quarter alone. That 24-9 second frame had seen India turn a five-point first-quarter deficit into a 38-28 double-digit lead at the half-time break.
But the second half saw the momentum shift back towards the hosts Bahrain, who were no doubt energized by playing in front of their fellow countrymen.
India (WR-74) though, ranked almost 40 places above Bahrain (WR-113), had only themselves to blame for failing to close out the game from a very winnable position.
"After trailing in the first quarter, we were dominating throughout, but in the last [few seconds] something happened," India captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi said after the loss.
That 'something' included a dagger go-ahead three from the corner by Bahrain guard Hesham Sarhan. India's senior forward Jagdeep Singh found himself caught in no man's land trying to guard the paint as well as the three-point line. By the time he decided to close out on Sarhan, the ball had already been released and found nothing but net.
Bahrain, which until then shot just 19% (4/21) from beyond the arc, had connected from downtown when it mattered the most, much to the delight of the spectators at the Khalifa Sports Stadium in Manama.
For India, besides veterans Bhriguvanshi and center Amritpal Singh, Tamil Nadu's Muin Bek showed excellent composure throughout the game at the point guard position.
India's second and final game of the first window will be against an even tougher opponent, Iraq, in Baghdad on 24th February. This game tips off at 9:30 pm IST, and will be live-streamed on Livebasketball.tv, and perhaps even FIBA's YouTube channel.