South Korea turned to suffocating defense to put the clamps on defending champion China to pull out a thrilling 63-59 upset on opening day of the FIBA Asia Championship on Thursday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
China struggled all game against the South Korean defense, which turned the match into a low-scoring struggle using a variety of full-court traps and zone schemes.
South Korea was still leading in the fourth quarter, 48-44, before former NBA player Yi Jianlian took over. He scored the next nine points for his team to help China grab a 53-52 advantage with 3:11 left in the game.
Zhou Peng hit two free throws to give China a 55-52 cushion, before Kim Joo-sung responded for South Korea with a three-point play over Yi to tie the game at 55-all at the 2:08 mark of the game.
After the teams traded defensive stops, Kim got a crucial steal leading to China committing an unsportsmanlike foul on Donggeun Yang, who nailed two free throws for a 57-55 advantage.
But South Korea squandered its extra possession, throwing the ball away. Zhu Fangyu nailed two free throws in the ensuing play to tie the game at 57-all with 40.5 seconds left.
Cho Sungmin drew a foul on Zhu in the next play, hitting two charity baskets for a 59-57 lead with 31.5 seconds left. South Korea foiled China’s next set, and Cho scored two more free throws for a 61-57 lead with 21.5 seconds left.
China was not done, with Liu Xiaoxu drawing a foul and scoring on a drive to the basket. But the Chinese guard missed his bonus free throw, forcing China to foul South Korea once more.
Donggeun nailed two more free throws, giving South Korea a 63-59 edge with 13.8 seconds left to ice the ballgame.
Kim led South Korea with 15 points, while Cho and Donggeun added 12 and 11, respectively.
Yi posted 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead China, which missed all 14 of its three-point attempts during the game.
South Korea is up for another test on Friday when it takes on Iran in continuing Group C action, while China will battle minnow Malaysia earlier in the day.