Aviano girls, Naples boys get boosts with triumphs
By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 31, 2020
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy – Even in the abbreviated DODEA-Europe basketball season, a single game often doesn’t a mean a whole lot.
But victories Friday night for the Aviano Saints girls and the Naples Wildcats boys might loom a bit larger.
“It’s just one game,” Naples boys coach Craig Lord said after his team sent the home crowd home stunned with a 42-32 overtime victory.
“It’s a huge win,” he said. “After two losses last week – games that we could have won – we needed this.”
That came after Aviano’s girls handed Naples its first defeat in Italy to an Italian-based team in more than three years, 41-30. If the Saints win when the two teams meet again on Saturday, they’ll likely have the top seed in Division II in the be-here-before-you-know-it season-ending European championships.
Aviano’s victory came with an asterisk. Naples was without All-Europe star Roxanne Sasse, who stayed down south with the flu.
The Saints took an 11-2 lead and never trailed, fighting off several Wildcats’ rallies along the way.
“We knew we were playing a great team and we came to play,” Aviano coach Monique Jones said. “We never give up, no matter what. We’re not intimidated by anybody.”
Junior Mikyla Harkley, who transferred from New Mexico at the start of the school year, continued to make a statement for her own spot on the All-Europe squad. She had game highs of 19 points, 14 rebounds and seven steals. She scored seven of the Saints’ points in the first quarter and then led the surge again in the fourth period as Aviano scored more points in the quarter (17) than its boys team did in a half (15).
A rare duel of 1-3-1 zone defenses might have contributed to some sloppy play by each team. Naples actually “won” the battle of turnovers by committing only 28 to Aviano’s 34.
“Way too many turnovers,” Naples coach Tim Smith said. “But they have a good basketball team.”
Aviano led 11-2 at one point in the first quarter before the Wildcats took their foot off the gas pedal. And almost went into neutral.
Naples was content to pass the ball thoroughly around Aviano’s patented 1-3-1 zone defense, taking large chunks of time off the clock. The strategy didn’t seem to be doing much initially – other than giving the scoreboard operator a break – as the Saints led 15-8 at the half.
But Naples kept slowly plugging away, eventually getting the ball on many possessions to senior center Tyrell Holland, who carried the Wildcats on his shoulders for much of the contest and finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds. But it was when Keshawn Holland added his scoring punch in two separate sprees that Naples took the lead and then won going away in overtime.
Keshawn Holland tied the contest at 17-17 with 4 minutes, 31 seconds left in the third period on a three-point shot. Then he put his team up 34 seconds later with a lay-up.
The two teams traded baskets and leads for the rest of regulation. Aviano’s Gabriel Hodgson missed two free throws with 6 seconds to play, but Naples’ Ti Hunter missed one for his team just a second later and overtime ensued.
The extra period was all Hollands. Tyrell Holland scored almost halfway through the extra period to put the first points up on the board. Naples got the ball back, but instead of running out more clock with the lead, Keshawn Holland fired away with a three-pointer, getting nothing but net.
Half a minute later - this time with a five-point advantage - he connected from even further out, icing the victory.
Aviano coach Kevin Lehde said he didn’t think his team was put off-kilter by Naples’ tactics.
“I don’t have any theories that I want to state for print,” he said.
After the two teams meet again Saturday, the Saints end their regular season in Rome next weekend. Naples still has to play a makeup game with Marymount.