Olympics-Basketball-France beats Iran, Italy edges Nigeria as quarter-finals take shape
TOKYO (JAPAN) -France secured a comfortable win over Iran in Olympic men’s basketball on Saturday to remain undefeated as seedings for the quarter-finals next week took shape.
Real Madrid’s Thomas Heurtel led with 16 points in France’s 79-62 victory at the Saitama Super Arena, north of Tokyo. They swept their opponents in Group A, including a shock defeat of Team USA on Sunday, the first Olympic loss for the Americans since 2004.
“The focus really was more about us and trying things out,” Evan Fournier, who plays for the NBA’s Boston Celtics, said about France’s decisive win. Despite his team’s dominant showing so far, he wouldn’t speculate on medal odds.
“Quarter-final first. Focus on that,” he said. “Too many times we’ve beaten very, very good teams and we lost in the semi-final, so no more of that.”
Italy’s Nico Mannion drained a three-pointer in the last 30 seconds to fend off a comeback from Nigeria, with his team holding on to win 80-71.
“Honestly, it felt good just to see one go in. I shot it terrible the whole night,” said Mannion, who plays for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, “But you know, shooters keep shooting.”
Italy has secured a spot in the quarter-finals next Tuesday. So has 2-0 Australia who will face Germany in the evening, but without forwarding Aron Baynes who aggravated a neck injury with a slip in the bathroom and is out of the Games. Germany is 1-1 and will need a good showing to advance.
The U.S., 1-1, will face the Czech Republic in the last match on Saturday.
Team USA has historically been the team to beat at basketball, with a 139-6 record and 15 gold medals since 1936. But as the sport has grown in popularity around the globe, many national teams can field teams with NBA experience, and the US.’s talent advantage has shrunk.
Before losing to France at these Games, the United States dropped two straight exhibition games this month, including a defeat to world 22nd-ranked Nigeria.
Both Iran and Nigeria finished their Olympic journey winless. Iran’s Arsalan Kazemi lamented that the travel restrictions imposed on Iran affected their performance.
“We cannot really get out of Iran for any good friendly game,” he said at a press conference. “For Olympic preparation, we could have gone to a lot of different countries like other teams and played like 10, 11, 12 good games, and would have come here and would have competed differently.”