The pursuit of a third trip to the NJCAA Division III national tournament in the last seven years by the Sandhills Community College basketball team ended in a suburb of the nation's Capitol Saturday afternoon.
The Flyers made only 26.6 per cent of their shots from the field on the way to an 85-59 loss to Montgomery College of Rockville, MD in an NJCAA Division III District VII semi-final game. That figure included only one three-point basket in 25 attempts.
Prince George's CC of Largo, MD defeated Southern Crescent Tech of Griffin, GA 68-54 in Saturday's other semi-final contest. Playing on its home court both days, Montgomery earned the bid to the national tournament on March 15-17 by defeating Prince George's 85-71 on Sunday.
Ranked No. 8 last week in the Division III national poll, the Flyers finished the season with a record of 27-6. Montgomery improved to 25-7 with the pair of wins.
The semi-final games were originally scheduled to be played on Friday. The change was made because of the "Nor'easter" that struck the East Coast. Montgomery College was closed on Friday because of the threat of high winds and power outages.
The two teams traded baskets for much of a defensive-oriented first half. The Flyers led for the only time in the game at 8-7 on a basket by Mason Harrell. The teams were tied for the final time at 19-19 on a basket by the Flyers' Juwaan Childs. With just under three minutes remaining in the half, the score was 33-26 after Parrish Stevons made their only three-point basket of the game.
Stevons was 4-for-11 from the field with nine points, and Harrell was 3-for-4 with six. But the rest of the team was a combined 5-for-27, including 1-for-18 from behind the arc. In spite of that the Flyers only trailed 36-29 at the intermission.
"Honestly I thought our defense was okay in the first half," Flyers' coach Mike Apple said. "They only scored 36 points, but our offense was off so badly."
The Raptors turned an offensive rebound into a three-pointer by Chris Johnson, and another second chance into pair of free throws by Ramel Davidson, for the first five points of the second half. The deficit was within single digits for the last time at 52-43 after the Flyers' Damauri Sexton split a pair of free throws with just under 10 minutes remaining in the game.
The second half rally the Flyers needed never came. Six points in a row by the home team started a 15-4 run that expanded its lead to 67-47 with about six minutes remaining in the game.
The Raptors were not exactly red-hot from the field themselves making only 38.5 per cent of their attempts. Stevons with 11 points and Harrell with 10 were the scoring leaders for the Flyers. Johnson led the Region XX champions with 16. Teammate Collin Turner, the second leading scorer in NJCAA Division III at 27.4 points per game, picked up three early fouls and finished with 13.
The 27 wins are tied for the second most in the Flyer program's history. The 2014-15 team that made it to the national tournament also won 27. The 2012 national championship team won 30 games.
"We just didn't recover in the second half," Apple said. "We seemed out of sync. Anyway it was a good season. I'm proud of the guys. They played hard. They just didn't play very well today."
Sandhills – Stevons 5 0-0 11, Harrell 5 0-1 10, Haith 1 3-6 5, Morrissette-Barnett 2 2-3 6, Garrison 1 0-0 2, Merriweather 0 0-0 0, Clarkson 1 1-2 3, Sexton 1 1-2 3, McCrimmon 0 0-0 0, McFadden 1 1-2 3, Peterson 1 5-6 7, Moore 1 0-0 2, Copeland 0 2-4 2, Childs 2 0-0 4, Murdock 0 0-0 0, Grissett 0 1-2 1 Totals 21 16-28 59. Montgomery – Johnson 6 1-3 16, Turner 5 2-2 13, Davidson 2 10-11 14, Harris 1 1-6 3, Arnold 3 0-0 7, Crawford 1 2-2 4, Offor 4 0-0 10, Brown 4 0-0 8, Mondoua 1 1-2 3, Tavarez 3 1-1 7 Totals 30 18-27 85. Three-point goals: SCC 1 (Stevons); MC 7 Johnson 3, Offor 2, Turner, Arnold).
by Charlie Bergmann
photo by Donna Ford