Co-host Japan came storming back late to beat Venezuela 86-77 and take a big step toward Olympic qualification Thursday at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
After going into the final quarter of their classification game trailing 62-53, Tom Hovasse's world No. 36 team outscored No. 17 Venezuela 33-15 to claim its second win of the tournament being held in Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia through Sept. 10.
Makoto Hiejima scored a game-high 23 points for Japan, connecting on 6-from-7 from three-point territory at Okinawa Arena.
Phoenix Suns swingman Yuta Watanabe had 21 points and eight rebounds, while Yuki Kawamura made another crucial late contribution on his way to 19 points and 11 assists.
Knocked out of contention at the tournament after its loss to Australia in the final Group E game, Akatsuki Japan entered the classification round for 17th-32nd place with Olympic qualification still on the table.
The team's 1-2 record from the first group stage put it in pole position for the sole direct ticket to the 2024 Paris Games reserved for the top Asian finisher at the World Cup.
"Because Olympic qualification is still in play, our motivation was still really high," said Kawamura, whose fourth-quarter heroics had helped Japan notch its sole group-stage win over Finland.
Having finished last in Group F with a 0-3 record, Venezuela was looking to salvage pride and reach next year's Olympic qualifying tournaments. Small forward Garly Sojo led the way for the South Americans with 20 points, while big man Nestor Colmenares added 17.
Center Josh Hawkinson, Japan's most reliable scorer in the group stage, had just six points but grabbed 11 rebounds, including crucial boards in crunch time.
Japan trailed by as much as 12 in the second quarter before closing the period strongly to go into the main break down 41-36.
Back-to-back threes from Watanabe cut it to 45-44 at 7:40 in the third, but Venezuela followed with a 14-2 run to take a 59-46 lead with 2:46 left in the period.
With Japan desperately in need of a big fourth quarter, guards Kawamura and Hiejima delivered down the stretch, spurring a run that resulted in the home team taking the lead at 75-74 with 1:55 left.
Hovasse said he wanted to see Japan's fourth-quarter intensity from the opening tip of its final classification game against Cape Verde on Saturday.
"We need to play the way we did at the end of this game right from the start of the next one," Hovasse said.