Basketball and India

FIBA Asia Qualifying Tournament: India qualify to 10th straight Asia Cup with inspired comeback and some assistance

After suffering an 80-61 defeat to Saudi Arabia on Friday in Group H of the FIBA Asia Cup 2021 Qualifying Tournament, India's chances of qualifying to next year's FIBA Asia Cup looked grim.

They not only needed a win against Palestine on Saturday but then, required a favourable result in the ensuing game on Sunday between Saudi Arabia and Palestine.

MORE: India's comeback falls short against Saudi Arabia

In the end, everything fell into place and India became the 15th team to book their ticket to the 16-nation FIBA Asia Cup next year by finishing second in Group H.

Here's a look at how they clawed back to qualify and what it means:

Amritpal Singh stars in comeback vs. Palestine

With a slow start for a second consecutive game, India were playing from behind for most of the 40 minutes against Palestine. In fact, Palestine led for 34:10 of the game but when it mattered, India made a run and finished with more points at the final buzzer.

Outscored 25-13 in the first quarter, India trailed by their largest deficit of 14 in the second quarter. However, they never let the game get away from them.

Heading into the final quarter, India kept it close but still trailed by nine (61-52). That's when they put their foot on the gas and outscored Palestine 27-16 to win 79-77.

Big man Amritpal Singh, playing after a long lay-off, was India's top scorer with 30 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds. Former NBA G Leaguer Amjyot Singh stuffed the stat sheet with his 23 points,10 rebounds and four assists.

Joginder Singh was the other double-digit scorer for India, scoring all of his 12 points from beyond the arc. The 5-foot-9 guard led the team's turnaround from beyond the arc, as India went from an 0-of-10 start to knocking down seven of their final 13 3-point attempts.

Singh's backcourt mate off the bench Sahaij Pratap Singh Sekhon was the spark off the bench yet again. His contribution was far more than what his box score read - seven points, two rebounds and two assists - as illustrated by his plus-minus of +14, which was second only to Joginder's +15.

Although Kyndall Dykes, Palestine's starting guard, finished with game-high tallies of 32 points and 10 assists, Sekhon's defence on Dykes - especially in the second quarter - played a huge role in India's comeback especially after the latter started off with 12 points in the first quarter.

He capped off the great game with a clutch layup in transition that more or less sealed the game for India.

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Despite the slim margin of two points, India won this game by dominating the paint, making the most of Palestine's turnovers and riding the spark from their bench duo of Singh and Sekhon. India outscored Palestine 38-22 in the paint, scored 19 points off of their opponent's 12 turnovers while only allowing 12 of their 13 turnovers.

The narrow win kept India's hopes alive but didn't seal their qualification.

Saudi Arabia delivers an assist

Heading into the final Group H game between Saudi Arabia and Palestine, the stakes were simple for India. Their qualification would be sealed if Saudi Arabia wins - irrespective of the margin - or if Palestine wins by a margin of at least 37 points.

That's when Saudi Arabia gave India an assist. The hosts blew out Palestine by 24 points (96-72), leading by a maximum of 37, in a game with no lead changes or ties. The win ensured Palestine finished with no wins and sealed India's ticket to the Asia Cup as the second team from Group H.

What does India's qualification mean for the record books?

The FIBA Asia Cup 2021, which is postponed to 2022, will be India's 10 straight Asia Cup. That is their second-longest consecutive appearance, falling four short of their 14 consecutive appearances from 1965 to 1991.

Things fell into place, else the South Asian nation were mighty close to missing their first Asia Cup since 1999.

MORE: India's track record at the Asia Cup

The full list of 15 teams to have qualified for next year's Asia Cup is as follows - Indonesia, Lebanon, Bahrain, Philippines, Korea, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Iran, Syria, Jordan and Kazakhstan.

So, how will India fare in the Asia Cup? Only time will tell but their recent results have not been promising. Some of the nation's worst finishes have come in recent years. In 2007, they finished second-to-last in a 16-team tournament while in 2011 and 2017, they finished 14th out of 16.

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