Co-host Japan stayed alive at the FIBA Basketball World Cup with a dramatic 98-88 win against Finland on Sunday, recovering from an 18-point deficit for the biggest comeback of the tournament so far.
Center Josh Hawkinson led the way for world No. 36 Japan with 28 points and 19 rebounds, while guard Yuki Kawamura scored 25 points off the bench, including 15 in the final quarter of the Group E clash at Okinawa Arena.
Utah Jazz forward-center Lauri Markkanen had a team-high 27 for the 24th-ranked Finns, who can no longer advance from the group stage at the tournament taking place in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia through Sept. 10.
Makoto Hiejima and Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Keisei Tominaga added 17 apiece for Akatsuki Japan on a quiet scoring night for star Yuta Watanabe, who had just four points but made a big defensive contribution.
Japan head coach Tom Hovasse heaped praise on his players for never giving up during a "crazy game."
"It was looking kind of bleak for a minute there. We haven't shot the ball well for the last three or four games. I think the young guys Kawamura and Tominaga came in and gave us a really big boost on the offensive end," the American coach said.
The game was must-win for both teams, with Japan looking to rebound from an 81-63 tournament-opening defeat to Germany, while Finland was coming off a 98-72 loss to Australia.
Japan trailed by 18 in the third and was down by 10 coming into the final quarter before 172-centimeter Yokohama B-Corsairs guard Kawamura unleashed a shooting barrage that led to the home team outscoring Finland 35-15 for the period.
Hovasse lauded the inside presence provided by 28-year-old American-born big man Hawkinson, who has played his entire professional career in Japan's B-League.
"He's a very smart player, he plays angles really well and, man, can he rebound in traffic," Hovasse said. "That's something that Japan hasn't really had in a long time. A guy that can just rebound with the best bigs in the world."
Japan led 22-15 at the first break on the back of its swarming defense, with the Phoenix Suns' Watanabe setting the tone by flying across the lane to block Edon Maxhuni as he attempted to open the scoring at the rim.
Trapping Finland's ball handlers at every opportunity, Akatsuki Japan forced six turnovers in the first quarter, while Hiejima scored nine points for the period, including a four-point play that brought the home fans among the 7,374 in attendance to their feet.
Finland began controlling the game with an improved shooting performance in the second quarter, opening on an 8-3 run and taking the lead at 30-28 on Mikael Jantunen's three-pointer with 4:31 left.
Head coach Lassi Tuovi's team took a 46-36 lead into the main break, with Markkanen contributing 12 first-half points.
Needing defensive stops to close the gap, Japan could do no better than trade baskets in the third quarter with the European side, which continued to get big production from Markkanen.
Battling back in the final period, Japan went ahead 79-78 on Kawamura's three-point play. Kawamura, who had nine assists, then sank a three-pointer to put the co-host up 82-78 with 3:51 remaining.
No. 11 Germany moved to the top of Group E with an 85-82 victory over No. 3 Australia earlier Sunday in Okinawa, setting up a clash between the Boomers and Japan on Tuesday with a place in the next round at stake.