The Sandhills Community College basketball team returned to work at Heins Gym on Saturday after about a two week holiday break. Coach Mike Apple's squad meets Hines Prep Academy of Charlotte in a 7 p.m. home game on Wednesday.
A 13-2 record and a No. 6 national ranking (NJCAA Division III poll) add up to a pretty good first half of the season that concluded with a 97-95 win over USC-Salkehatchie. A pair of free throws with 9.3 seconds remaining in the game by freshman Tavarus Peterson provided the margin of victory.
"That was an especially good win against a D-I team," sophomore Mason Harrell said before a practice on Sunday. "We owed them one since they beat us at their place last year."
The 6-foot-8 sophomore is averaging 11.6 points per game and leads the team with 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per contest. The product of East Wake High School has seen improvement in the team from earlier in the season, but still doesn't feel it has played to its full potential.
"At first we weren't really playing together, but the last few games I think we've been a lot better," he said. "I don't think we've played a whole 40 minutes right, but we've played 20 or 30 minutes right and then our talent gets us through the rest of the time. If we all work hard I don't think anybody can beat us."
After Wednesday, the Flyers face a difficult stretch of games beginning with road dates at Division I Caldwell Tech on Saturday afternoon and at Division II Lenoir CC next Wednesday. Then on Saturday, January 13, they will take a 3-0 record in Region X play into a 7 p.m. home game against rival Davidson County CC.
"Most of them did a good job of coming back in some semblance of shape," Apple said of his players. "They have to get back into playing shape quickly.
"The other thing is that you are always built as a team around offensive and defensive communication. I thought we made great strides in talking to one another. That was one of our big points in practice yesterday and we want to improve on that."
One of the bright spots in the first half has been Parrish Stevons, a 6-1 swing player, who leads the team in scoring with a 15.3 per game average and is also among the team leaders in rebounds, assists and steals.
"Parrish coming back after a red-shirt season, and taking the reins of leadership, and being so strong, has been a big deal," the coach said. "I think the improvement by the first-year guys like Donnie (Haith), Chase (Morrissette-Barnett) and Tavarus over the first 15 games was very noticeable. Red-shirt freshmen Casey Clarkson and Damauri Sexton are playing big roles off the bench."
Led by Harrell, Stevons, Shane Garrison, Juwaan Childs, Damauri Sexton and Luke Moore the Flyers have out-rebounded all but three of their opponents. Apple also likes the way his inside players have been facilitating each other offensively. Each has made over 50 per cent of their shots from the field.
In addition to Stevons and Harrell, the other double-figure scorers for the Flyers are Morrissette-Barnett (11.7) and Haith (10.7). Morrissette-Barnett is also the assist leader (3.5) and Haith leads in steals (2.0).
The next 15 games are steps in preparation for post-season play that gets underway in late February with the Region X tournament. For the first time in a number of years it will be held at a neutral site, Wake Tech.
That champion advances to District VII play which will be held at one of the Region XX colleges that are located in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The winner there qualifies for the national tournament in Loch Sheldrake, N.Y. in March.
Current Region X Standings: Sandhills 3-0, Davidson 2-1, Central Carolina 1-2, Johnston CC 0-3.
by Charlie Bergman
photo by Donna Ford