WIESBADEN, Germany – Saturday’s Division II boys championship game could look a lot like last year’s version.
Some players have changed, but it’ll Naples trying to defend its title against the team it defeated last year: AFNORTH.
The top-seeded Wildcats had a bit easier time than the No. 2 ranked Lions in Friday semifinals. But each made it through to set up the rematch.
AFNORTH 46, Vicenza 45:Vicenza senior Terell Gandy collapsed to the floor as what might have been his team’s game-winning shot caromed off side of the rim, his heroic efforts falling one agonizing point short.
Gandy, the Cougars’ lone senior, scored 12 of his game-high 24 points in a frenzied fourth-quarter mission to fend off elimination at the hands of the second-seeded Lions. His shots included a three-pointer with 10 seconds remaining that brought Vicenza within a point.
That would be the final margin. Vicenza got the ball back off a missed AFNORTH free throw, but Derrick Schaefer’s contested last-second look couldn’t find the net.
Melih-Erin Yabici scored all of his 10 points in the second half, converting a string of well-timed jumpers to protect the endangered AFNORTH lead. Daniel Cordova led the team with 14 points.
The Lions continued the dangerous game they’ve been playing throughout their heart-stopping stayover in Wiesbaden. The second seed managed a four-point win over Black Forest Academy and a one-point comeback over AOSR to advance to Friday, where they finally found some breathing room in a 48-22 quarterfinal ouster of Marymount.
However they got there, the Lions are now where they planned to be after finishing as last year’s Division II runner-up to Naples.
“The goal all season was just to get back to the championship, hopefully against Naples, and take our chances,” AFNORTH head coach Rawn Jones said.
Vicenza head coach Eric Wakefield expects to return the majority of a team that went 11-1 on the season and came within a point of a title shot against archrival Naples.
The challenge lies in replacing Gandy.
“He has that will to win. He just wanted to continue on,” Wakefield said. “I think he wanted it, more than for himself, he wanted to do it for the guys.”
Naples 53, SHAPE 44:It was a tale of two halves between top-seeded Naples and SHAPE.
The SHAPE Spartans, seeded No. 6, were feeling pretty good when the halftime buzzer sounded and the boys from Belgium were enjoying a one-point lead, thanks to a last second shot from downtown by Conner Manning that found its target and put the Spartans up by one.
“We told each other we need to wake up,” Naples junior guard DJ Stockman said about the team’s talk at break.
Wake up they did, as a pair of three-pointers early in the third quarter by Stockman, who made four from beyond the arc on Friday, gave the Wildcats the boost of confidence that they needed to sustain a lead the rest of the way.
Stockman, the leading scorer on a the balanced Naples team, finished with a game-high 26 points.
Stockman said despite making it to Saturday’s championship game and having a chance to soak up the electricity of the Fitness Center at Clay Kaserne, he’s not satisfied with just making it there.
“I won’t be relieved until we win that championship,” he said.
Isaiah Wesby added 10 for the Wildcats.
Manning was the top scorer for SHAPE with 22 on the game.