|Makoto Hiejima sizzled for Japan. FIBA|
By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA—Japan scored a very important win in its FIBA World Cup Qualifiers stint early Friday (Philippine Time), beating gritty Iran, 97-89, at the Azadi Basketball Hall in Tehran.
Banking on a hot start, the visiting "Akatsuki Five" held off the host team despite a hot showing from Mohammad Jamshidi.
Both teams engaged in a shootout in the first quarter, but behind the brilliance of Nick Fazekas and Makoto Hiejima, Japan finished the period ahead, 35-28.
The visiting side then limited the home team to just 17 points in the second quarter as Jamshidi's teammates struggled in backstopping him.
But just as Japan appeared to be pulling away in the second half after building a lead as high as 18, 89-71, with 4:50 left, Iran went on a 14-2 run to cut the lead down to six, 91-85, with 1:44 to play.
However, that was all Iran could muster as both teams just exchanged deuces in the end.
Fazekas finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and one assist, while Hiejima added 24 points four rebounds, six assists, and one steal for Japan, which tied its victim for second place in Group F at 7-4.
Japan has now won seven straight games since starting the WCQ 0-4.
The win put more pressure on Gilas Pilipinas to beat Qatar in a game ongoing as of posting in Doha.
Jamshidi put up 33 points, two rebounds, and five assists for Iran.
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