By Yoo Jee-ho and Park Sojung
INCHEON, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea staged a thrilling comeback to defeat Iran 79-77 for gold in men's basketball at the Asian Games on Friday.
South Korea erased a five-point deficit with two minutes to play to win its first gold in men's hoops since 2002.
Down 75-70 with two minutes to play, South Korea went ahead 76-75 with Yang Dong-geun's three-pointer and then a three-point play by Kim Jong-kyu, who converted his free throw after getting fouled on a lay-in with 36.3 secods to go.
South Korea got a steal on the next possession and Moon Tae-jong, who was fouled after an inbound, drained both of his free throws for a 78-75 lead with 16.9 seconds left.
South Korean players celebrate their victory over Iran for the Asian Games men's basketball gold medal on Oct. 3, 2014. (Yonhap)
Mohammad Samad Nikkhah Bahrami made a turn-around jumper to cut the deficit to 78-77 with 14 seconds remaining.
On the next possession, Moon was fouled again and made one of his two free throws.
With a chance to win at the buzzer, Bahrami launched a three-pointer that rolled out of the rim. Center Hamed Haddadi grabbed the offensive board, but his jumper was also off-target as the clock ticked down to the finish at Samsan World Gymnasium.
South Korean head coach Yoo Jae-hak called the victory "a miracle," and said he saw about 10 percent of the chance of winning the game when his team was still trailing.
"Our players competed with determination and passion to create this miracle," Yoo said. "I'd just like to thank them for playing so hard."
Just last month, the same squad lost every preliminary game at the world championships in Spain. Yoo said his players were able to regroup for the Asian Games because they were driven to end the title drought at home.
"It was really hard coming back from the world championships, and the guys were quite discouraged," the coach added. "Veterans on the team tried to rally the younger guys, and I think it led to this gold medal."
Kim Jong-kyu, who made the crucial three-point play late in the fourth quarter, said he reminded himself before the game that he shouldn't get too greedy on the floor.
"That basket felt great, but I wanted to keep my emotions in check," Kim said of the key play. "I made sure I wasn't going to try too much to show off and play within my means."
Iran led 61-58 after three quarters and scored the first bucket of the fourth quarter for a five-point cushion. Then Cho Sung-min dialed in from downtown for South Korea, and Yang Hee-jong converted a three-point play after getting fouled on a putback, putting the host up 64-63.
Iran tightened its defense, and Haddadi converted a three-point play to make it 68-68. After a South Korean miss, Haddadi came back to make a jumper, and two free throws by Sajjad Mashayekhi gave Iran a 72-68 lead.
At 73-70 for Iran, Bahrami drained a jumper for a five-point cushion with 2:02 remaining.
That's when the South Koreans dug deep. Yang Dong-geun, who'd missed a three in the previous possession, made it in his second try. And Kim Jong-kyu, the youngest member of the team at 23, showed the poise of a veteran in the nervy three-point play.
Moon, a naturalized South Korean who was born to an African-American father and a Korean mother, led South Korea with 19 points. Bahrami scored 21 of his 30 points in the first half for Iran.
Moon, the oldest player on the team at 38, said the victory likely meant more to his younger teammates because the Asian Games gold will exempt them from the mandatory two-year military service.
"It's a real honor and blessing to win here," he said. "It was a relief (when the buzzer went off) because I missed one of my free throws (with 14 seconds left). If we lost, it would've been my fault."
South Korea led 25-16 after the opening quarter, with Cho Sung-min sinking two shots from downtown. The host jumped out to a 9-0 lead over the game's opening three minutes and made 10 of 16 shots from the floor in the first quarter.
Iran opened the second quarter with more authority, as Bahrami, who entered the game averaging 20 points a game, led the offense.
Bahrami drained a three to start the second quarter and made a jumper two possessions later. Moving better away from the ball than earlier in the game, the Iranians attacked the rim with abandon and took a 28-27 lead on Bahrami's bucket midway through the second quarter.
Iran then got careless with the ball, as South Korea tried to regain control. Cho Sung-min converted a three-point play to pull South Korea level at 30-30, with a jumper and successful free throws putting the host up 40-32 with 1:23 remaining.
Guard Kim Sun-hyung made it 42-36 at halftime with an acrobatic layup in the dying moments.
Led by Bahrami and Mahdi Kamrani, Iran went back up to a 50-49 lead midway through the third quarter.
Moon Tae-jong then stepped up for South Korea, draining back-to-back treys to put South Korea up 57-53.
Then Kamrani responded with a three-pointer of his own, and Iran took full advantage of South Korea's sloppiness, as Arman Zangeneh, Hamed Afagh and Hamed Haddadi scored consecutive points for a 61-58 advantage heading into the final frame.
Iran seemed headed for its first-ever Asian Games gold, but the South Koreans refused to go away and mounted a huge comeback.