WIESBADEN, Germany – AFNORTH guard Nuri Karaca spent his offseason staring at footage of the humiliating 68-46 loss to Naples his team suffered this time last year. He watched it again and again, vowing to never relive it.
On Saturday, Karaca set things right.
The Lions senior captain took over a meandering rematch with the Wildcats in the 2013 DODDS-Europe Division II championship game, scoring five points in the final two minutes of regulation and two more in overtime in a 43-39 AFNORTH victory.
“We came out here saying, ‘We will not lose today. Not again,’” Karaca said.
It fell to Karaca, the team’s unquestioned leader, to make sure of it.
“As a senior, and as a captain, everyone has been telling me that I needed to step up,” Karaca said. “Big-time players make big-time plays in big games.”
The game is as big as it gets for the Lions program. The championship is first in the four-decade history of AFNORTH boys basketball.
“That was 40 years that we took out on that floor tonight,” Lions head coach Rawn Jones said.
For 30 minutes, this championship game looked like anything but.
A wobbly start for both teams left the game tied at two apiece past the midway point of the first quarter. Naples was the first to steady itself with a 10-2 run. The Lions were game for a shootout, however, and pulled within a basket at 21-19 by the halftime intermission.
The scoring bogged down again in the third quarter as the teams exchanged misses and occasional baskets. Aaron Smith’s three-pointer with 48 seconds to play in the quarter gave Naples a two-possession lead at 30-26, and an Isaiah Wesby free throw established a five-point lead entering the deciding eight minutes.
Still the Wildcats couldn’t finish off their prey. Karaca spun into the lane with two minutes to play and drew a foul, making both free throws to tie the game at 35.
A Naples turnover on the other end gave AFNORTH the ball with the chance to pull ahead; Karaca cashed it in with an adroit series of fakes and twirls in the paint, shaking loose for a go-ahead scoop with just over a minute to play.
The proud champions had an answer. Wesby hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 30 seconds to play for a 38-37 lead.
It wouldn’t hold. Karaca again sprinted for the lane and took a foul that sent him sprawling to the ground. He made the second of two free throws to tie the game at 38 and force a four-minute overtime period.
Again the offenses atrophied. Karaca’s two free throws, the last of his game-high 16 points, trumped Naples’ one, giving the Lions a lead at the halfway point of the overtime session.
With time dwindling, AFNORTH ducked and weaved through the Wildcats’ reaching defense, expending valuable seconds while Naples considered a clock-stopping foul. With 20 seconds to play, sophomore guard Melih-Eren Yabici ended the waiting game with a title-clinching three-pointer.
The brash sophomore had no hesitation about the questionable shot selection; a miss and Naples rebound would have set up a last Wildcat possession with just a one-point AFNORTH lead to surmount.
Yabici doesn’t think in such fatalistic terms. His team simply “needed it,” he explained. The shot represented his only points of the game.
“I believe in my shot,” Yabici said. “I knew it was going in.”