RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — USAFE’s women waltzed to the Combined Command Air Headquarters Ramstein basketball championship Wednesday afternoon, and a few hours later, the USAFE men followed suit.
But the men’s style was a lot less stately — their victory was more like a dance of death against a big German air force team, which averaged more than 250 pounds per man from tackle to tackle.
USAFE men 76, Germany 73: OK, so it wasn’t a pro football team wearing German black, but the Luftwaffe team was huge. It was also professional.
"The German air force releases their players for the entire Bundesliga [German federal league] season, and for a few tournaments," said USAFE coach Don Fellers of Grand Forks, N.D., "This is one of them, so if you beat them, you’ve beaten the cream of the crop."
USAFE has now beaten the cream of the crop two straight times. The Americans claimed a 45-43 victory in two overtimes over Germany on Tuesday, then rallied from deficits that reached as many as 11 points in Wednesday’s title game.
"It’s kind of funny," said Travis Wallace. "We were so outsized, we shouldn’t have had a chance. It just shows you that if you play hard, good things can happen."
No one played harder than Wallace, who twisted his way through the massive German inside presence to snare eight second-half rebounds that proved invaluable in the U.S. comeback. He led USAFE with 18 points.
It was Wallace’s first game under international rules, and it was physical. He was up to the task.
"I just wanted to provide some intensity for the team," Wallace said of his step-up second-half effort. "Everybody stepped up."
A Ryan Voisin three-pointer with 4:06 left in the third quarter launched the Americans on a 12-5 run that put them up 54-53 going into the game’s final 10 minutes. Germany surged ahead by four points to open the final period, but a three-pointer from Preston Griffin as the shot clock expired with eight minutes to go started a 10-2 U.S. run to give the Americans a jolt going into the game’s final five minutes.
Germany regained the lead at 73-72 with a minute to play before Aaron Stafford hit a bucket with 51 seconds left that put USAFE ahead again and allowed Ryan Teets to take over. With the shot clock again on 1 second and 20.3 seconds left in the game, Teets drew a foul and made both free throws.
Tight defense gave the Germans nothing but bad looks at the potential game-tying three-pointer, and when it clanked off the front rim with four seconds left, Wallace rebounded.
"It was a total team effort," said Fellers. "We stressed our core values. Everyone sacrificed himself for the team."
USAFE women 74, Belgium 30: "We couldn’t have come out any flatter than we did," USAFE coach Bobby Seaberry said about his team’s colder-than-frigid opening 6:29. At that point, USAFE trailed the equally cold Belgian team 4-3.
"Our coach was pulling out his hair," said Ieschia Ross. "Our shots weren’t falling, our passes weren’t any good and we couldn’t even get lay-ups to fall."
USAFE’s answer to the cold snap was to step up the pressure on both ends of the floor. It unleashed a full-court press that caused the Belgians to commit 17 second-quarter turnovers and sparked the Americans to a 40-17 halftime lead as the shots finally began to find the mark.
"At first, I didn’t think anything was going to fall," said Rebecca Harris, who scored 13 points. "But Coach told us to keep shooting."
Lisa Bryant took game-high honors with 14 points, Ross scored 13 and Salonika Qwewon-Owens 10.
Both USAFE teams swept through the three-day annual event unbeaten.
USAFE’s women won two years ago, but duty commitments kept the command from fielding a team last year. Germany’s men were the two-time defending champs.
"They beat us by three points last year," Fellers said. "I’ve been thinking about it all year."