China edge past Mongolia in Asiad men's basketball

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Zhang Zhenlin scored 19 points as China's men's basketball team kicked off its Asiad journey by thrashing Mongolia 89-50 in a Group B match on Tuesday.

Wang Zhelin (top) of China competes during the Men's Preliminary Round match of Basketball between China and Mongolia at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, Sept. 26, 2023. (Xinhua/Meng Yongmin)

The game didn't follow the "written script" as expected, as world No. 100 Mongolia gave world No. 29 China an embarrassing first quarter -- after bench center Wang threw himself to block Mongolia's layup, Chinese players saved their blushes by leading just one point to end the quarter.

China then woke up, allowing Mongolia only nine points in the second quarter to wrap up the first half 44-28. Forward Cui Yongxi made two 3-pointers at the beginning of the third quarter, followed by Zhejiang-based center Hu Jinqiu's consecutive paint points, China soon enlarged its lead to 30-plus, turning the game into an early blowout.

Following an eye-catching FIBA World Cup, guard Zhao Rui stepped out to take seven of China's first nine points and finished with 10 points, but also had six turnovers. Team captain Zhao Jiwei went through a hapless 40-minute and didn't score until nailing a 3-pointer jumper in the third quarter.

Zhang, who lit up the arena with a couple of powerful dunks, led China with 19 points and nine rebounds, and Cui added 16 points and three assists.

"For this Chinese team, I think we are lacking international games experience, and we have to trust each other, to trust our coaching crew, and go all out in every game to return the fans' favor," Zhang said after game, adding "I have been to Hangzhou a couple of times to compete in domestic league finals, but this time is different since I jersey up to fight for my country."

Days ago, team players received a letter from Chinese basketball legend Liu Yudong nicknamed "warlord", urging them to play with tenacity.

Mongolia dispatched a young squad with an average age of 21.8, including centers 18-year-old Azbayar Altangerel and 19-year-old Binderiya Sandagdorj who had previous experience in 3x3 basketball, and the team had 17 turnovers and only shot 17% behind the arc.

Odgerel Tulga scored a team-high eight points for Mongolia, and Bolor-Erdene Gantsolmon added seven.

In other matches on Tuesday, Iran beat the United Arab Emirates 81-57, Saudi Arabia defeated Kazakhstan 86-62, the Philippines whipped Bahrain 89-61, Jordan thrashed Thailand 97-63, South Korea smashed Indonesia 95-55, Japan trounced Qatar 95-63, and Chinese Taipei outperformed Hong Kong, China 81-62.

"The first game is always full of tension, and we didn't open up the game perfectly, but once we found a way to move the ball and play with our depths and bigs, we found some open shots and good runs," said China's head coach Aleksandar Djordjevic, addressing its difficult first quarter.

Djordjevic said the team's goal of winning the gold remained unchanged. "First of all, we have to prepare ourselves the next game, which is the most important one (in the group phase) with Chinese Taipei. We are going to watch all the opponents, we try to be ready when confronting them. And the goal is going all the way to win the gold medal," Djordjevic said at post-game press conference.

China will clash with Chinese Taipei on September 28.

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