The Sandhills Flyers head into two home games this week looking for 40 minutes, not 20 or 30, of consistent play.
Before the largest basketball crowd of the season at Heins Gymnasium on Saturday, the Flyers put together one of their best first halves to take a 53-51 lead against Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. A three by Josh Smith early in the second made it 62-56, but they went the next five and a half minutes without making a basket on the way to a 93-82 defeat.
Josh Smith and Jeremias Easterling were the leading scorers for the Flyers with 14 points apiece. Mason Harrell scored 11 of his 13 points, and grabbed nine of his game-high 13 rebounds, after the intermission. Jahmeel Watts was 10-for-10 from the field and scored 23 points for the Cobras.
The Flyers (10-2) will try to break a two-game losing streak when they entertain Mount Zion Prep on Monday at 7 p.m. They are at home again on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. Region X contest against Central Carolina Community College.
Caldwell (8-2) competed against the Flyers as a member of the Region X conference before moving up to Division I this season.
"We knew what they would run," Flyers' assistant coach Tony Chapman said afterward. "We played pretty well in the first half and I thought we out-efforted them."
A compelling first 20 minutes included 11 lead changes and seven ties. Zezva Liluashvili scored all 13 of his points in the game and D'Angelo Harris provided a spark at both ends of the court. A pair of threes by Johnny McFadden in the closing minute helped produce their 53-51 advantage.
In all, head coach Mike Apple's squad was 8-for-12 from behind the arc in the first half.
"I thought D'Angelo played as hard as any kid I had today," Apple said. "I thought the biggest thing we did in the first half was make shots."
Early in the second half the three by Smith gave the home team its biggest lead at 62-56. The Cobras responded with a 17-2 run that ended at the 9:20 mark on a basket by Harrell that cut the Flyer deficit to 73-66. The closest they could get after that was at 75-70 on a basket by McFadden off of a Smith steal.
The 6-foot-8 Harrell scored on a dunk, a tip-in, and a baby hook, and fed Easterling for a dunk, to account for most of the Flyer offense in the final three minutes of the game.
"We didn't really push the ball in the second half to get any kind of easy things and the basket seemed to have a lid on it for a long time," Apple said. "We just didn't have enough in the tank to catch them. We have to regroup a little bit."
For Smith, one of five second-year Flyers, it all comes down to consistency.
"We got complacent," he said. "We'll see on Monday. You have to put the full 40 minutes together. If not, it's going to be tough."
Flyer notes – The fourth three by Smith in the final minute of the game was the Flyers' 100th of the season (fifth most in NJCAA, Division III). Both teams were 13-for-16 at the charity stripe in the first half (81.3 per cent). The Flyers were beaten on the boards for the first time this season (39 to 34).
Caldwell – Sales 1 5-6 7, Byrd 1 2-4 4, Watts 10 2-2 23, Hughes 3 11-11 18, Robinson 3 1-5 7, Walton 2 2-4 7, Bullard 5 1-2 13, Phifer 0 0-0 0, White 2 1-2 6, Horn 0 0-0 0, Hampton 0 0-0 0, Gilmore 4 0-0 8 Totals 31 25-36 93. Sandhills – Smith 5 0-0 14, Easterling 4 6-10 14, Field 1 0-0 2, Harrell 5 3-5 13, Garrison 0 0-0 0, Liluashvili 3 4-4 13, Lathan 2 0-0 5, McCrimmon 0 0-0 0, Harris 3 1-2 7, McFadden 3 0-0 8, Hardy 1 0-0 2, Childs 0 0-0 0, Thomas 1 2-2 4 Totals 28 16-23 82. Three-point goals: CCTC 6 (Bullard 2, Watts, Hughes, Walton, White); SCC 10 (Smith 4, Liluashvili 3, McFadden 2, Lathan).
by Charlie Bergmann
Picture by Donna Ford