ZHOU Peng made big baskets down the stretch as China held off Kazakhstan's late charge for a 73-67 victory on Monday at the start of the second round of the Fiba-Asia Championship preliminaries at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Peng had a game-high 17 points, five of them coming in a crucial juncture in the fourth quarter when the defending champions reclaimed the lead from a Kazakhstan team that enjoyed support from Filipino fans waiting for the next game between Gilas Pilipinas and Japan.
China, which missed the services of NBA veteran Yi Jianlian for the third straight game, improved its record to 1-2 in Group F to boost its bid to for a place in the quarterfinals.
It was a morale-boosting victory for China after struggling in the preliminary round that saw it lose to Asian powerhouse Korea and Iran in Group C.
“I think I have to congratulate my players, they played a very good game with a lot of concentration, a lot of focus and a lot of desire to win the game,” said China coach Panagiotis Giannakis.
Peng hit a basket after being fouled with 2:56 left in the fourth for a 64-62 China lead. He failed to complete the three-point play but made up for the miss by burying a triple in the next play.
China veteran Wang Zhizhi and Sun Yue put the finishing touches to the win by scoring on a putback and two free throws, respectively, with under two minutes left in the game, 71-65.
“China is a big nation and people love basketball, you can imagine if we lose in the last minute. We played the game with a lot of pressure, but we stayed focused. It was a big win,” said Giannakis.
Kazakhstan fell to its first loss after going perfect in the preliminaries in Group D.
Even with a double-digit deficit, Kazakshtan refused to wilt as they build an 8-0 run capped by a lay-up by naturalized player Jerri Johnson to grab a 63-62 lead.
“They deserved to win because they were more focused. After we got the tie, they showed their great quality and great coaching,” said Kazakhstan coach Matteo Boniciolli.
Yi sat the game against Kazakhstan once again to rest his injured hamstring and groin in time for the knockout stages.
But China’s injury woes continued when its starting guard Liu Xiaoyu had a horrific fall, landing flat on his back hard just two minutes into the first period.
Despite Liu’s absence, China showed its usual form after leading by 16 points, the biggest lead of the game at 28-12 in the second period.
Zhu Fangyu added 15 points, while Wang added 12 points for China, which next face India on Tuesday. Johnson led the Kazakhs with 13 points.
China (73)—Zhou 17, Zhu 15, Wang Z. Z. 12, Wang S. 9, Sun 6, Chen 4, Wang Z. 4, Li 3, Guo 2, Zhang 1, Liu 0.
Kazakhstan (67) – Jonson 13, Yevstigneyev 11, Lapchenko 9, Yargaliyev 9, Klimov 7, Murzagaliyev 6, Ponomarev 6, Bondarovich 6, Sultanov 0, Zhigulin 0, Bazhkin 0.
Quarterscores: 24-12; 42-30; 50-46; 73-67.