Guo Ailun (Front L) of China breaks through during the group M match between China and South Korea at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, Sept. 6, 2019. (Xinhua/Pan Yulong)
Thanks to Guo Ailun's five points in the last two minutes, China rallied past South Korea 77-73 in the classification round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, preserving its hopes of direct qualification for the Tokyo Olympics.
The game was tied at 70-70 with two minutes left on the clock. Lee Jung-hyun made a free throw for South Korea leading 71-70. Guo dribbled into the paint for a layup, helping China retake a 72-71 lead with one minute to go.
After Yi Jianlian made a steal from Lee, Guo scored his three-pointer to put China ahead at 75-71 with 40 seconds left. Ra Guna made one free throw for the Koreans, only to see Zhao Jiwei's layup kill the game.
"We needed the victory. We had lost a couple of games we shouldn't have, which had some negative impact. Hopefully we can gain confidence though this game," China coach Li Nan said.
"We played a really tough game, losing the game because we lost our focus in the last few minutes," said Kim Sun-hyung, who had 14 points for South Korea.
Zhao Rui and Guo scored 16 points apiece, while Zhou Qi had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Ra made 21 points and Kim had 14 for South Korea.
After the tip-off, Zhou assisted Zhai Xiaochuan for a jumper to open the scoring for China who moved ahead 7-2. Lee scored a 3-pointer, Ra made a 3-point play to help South Korea lead 12-9, before Zhao and Sun Minghui combined six points for China that led 19-18 in the first quarter.
China had a smooth start into the second quarter as Guo made a jumper, both Wang and Zhao Rui scored under the basket. Ra then stood out to score nine points for a 32-31 lead for S. Korea. However, the hosts still led 35-32 into the second half.
After Zhou dominated the paint with four straight points for China, Lee made a three-pointer and Ra hit four straight points to put the game level at 39-all. As both sides struggled on fouls and field goal percentage, China kept a narrow lead at 54-52 before the fourth quarter.
A Choi Jun-yong three pointer started the final quarter. Guo hit a three-pointer to take a 61-55 lead for China, before Kim and Choi combined with six points to equalize, setting up the late-game drama.
China, with two games in hand, is leading the Asian battle for a ticket to Tokyo Olympics, with Iran chasing behind closely.
On Sunday, China will play Nigeria while Iran, who scored its first win over Angola, faces the Philippines.
"We will do our best to prepare for the last game. We will fight to the end for the victory," Li said.