India edged past Uzbekistan 68-67 in a thrilling match to qualify for the Asia Basketball Championships on Friday.
In the process, the home side avenged the defeat it suffered in the 2003 qualifying tournament.
But the narrow victory for the hosts in a round-robin league match in the Middle-Asia zone, at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium in Delhi, very nearly turned into a heartbreaking defeat as the Indians missed many a free throw that came their way towards the fag end.
Spurred on by the few hundreds of vocal supporters, India clawed their way back into the match after trailing 29-33 at the halfway mark.
The stars of the Indian victory, which came after a see-saw battle against the tall Uzbeks, were Riyazzudin and Shabbir Ahmed, who emerged the top scorers, scoring 15 and 14 points respectively.
Talwinderjit Singh and Trideep Rai also played stellar roles, scoring 11 points each. Rai's consecutive three pointers in the last quarter proved vital for India as it gave them a 63-60 lead with just around three minutes to go on the clock.
India first took the lead in the third quarter through Talwinder, who snatched the ball from the rivals, dashed to the other end and came up with a clean lay-up shot to put India 34-33 ahead.
The Indians began the last quarter leading 52-51 and soon heaved a sigh of relief when the giant Uzbek guard Sergey Kuchin committed his fifth foul and went out.
Shabeer Ahmed scored one of the two free throws to stretch India's lead by another point. Soon he made amends for his earlier miss as he found the basket from a distance to take India's lead to four points.
The Uzbeks hit back strongly and the arrival of crafty dribbler GennadiyZinovev added more zing to their attacks. On the other hand India suffered with Shabeer getting ejected
followinghis fifth foul.
Though Trideep Rai made up for Ahmed's exit, making it 57-53, the fiery Uzbeks were in no mood to relent as they snatched the lead back at 60-57.
It was Rai again who came to India's rescue with two three pointers that first put India level (60-all)and then in the lead.
Talvinderjit then came up with one of his trademark fast breaks and Jagdeep Singh managed a free throw to strengthen India's lead at 66-60.
Withseconds ticking away, the match was now at its exciting best as the Uzbeks tried their level best to narrow the gap.
India were soon up 68-61only for the Uzbeks to reduce the gap to just a point. The hosts then wasted some golden chances to put the match beyond their rivals' reach when Riyazzudin missed a couple of free throws.
JagdeepSingh's final basket at the hooter was not counted but the Indian team still clung on to their slender lead to do the victory gig.
TheUzbeks, who time and again vented their frustration against one of the two referees' calls, were crestfallen after crashing to their second straight defeat.
Thiswas India's third consecutive win after routing lowly Nepal and Bangladesh in their first two games.
In the day's second match between two equally matched opponents, Bangladesh defeated Nepal 91-62to record their first win in three outings.
Bangladesh, who earlier lost to Kazakhstan and India, led 78-37 at half-time. Mohammed Raseduzzaman emerged the top scorer with 31 points for the winners, while Rabindra Maharjan, who scored 16points, was the best Nepal player on view.