In 33 years as a coach Mike Apple has never had a season begin quite like his eighth at the helm of the Sandhills Community College basketball team.
The Flyers went into the Chatlee Classic at the Hangar on Friday missing seven players because of two-game suspensions arising out of an altercation in a scrimmage against Stillwater Prep last week, and another because of a knee injury.
With nine players in uniform they struggled mightily during a 68-61 win over Shooting for Greatness Academy on Friday. Less than 24 hours later, the Flyers trailed Wake Tech by 12 points with 6:48 remaining before Holt Walker and Devian Smith sparked a rally that cut the deficit to 77-76 at the 2:30 mark.
The Eagles outscored the home team 11-3 the rest of the way to hand the Flyers an 88-79 loss.
Five of the seven players returning from last season's 27-6 squad were not available.
"I think this was a bunch of kids that we had no idea were going to play the first two games of the season kind of figuring out what it takes to play college basketball," Apple said on Saturday. "I think we were poorly prepared yesterday. If you grade us on a learning curve, I think today the learning curve went out the window."
Locked up in a close game against S4G throughout, the Flyers made enough plays down the stretch to escape with the victory.
Smith, a 5-foot-8 freshman from Elevation Prep, and Walker, a 6-7 freshman, accounted for nine of the last 12 Flyer points. St. Andrews transfer Calvin Ahoume led the home team with an all-around performance that included 16 points, 13 rebounds, four blocked shots, three assists and a steal. Also scoring in double figures were freshmen Sayaun Dent with 16 and Walker with 13.
The Flyers prevailed in spite of going 1-for-21 from three point range and making only 13 of 32 free throws. On Saturday against a Wake Tech squad that dominated the boards in a 104-82 win over Central Carolina CC the night before, they improved in both areas and out-rebounded the Eagles 35 to 26.
Walker, who missed most of the first half on Saturday after picking up two early fouls, scored all of his team-high 18 points in the second half.
With his team trailing 75-63, two threes from the corner, and a pair of free throws by the Terry Sanford grad, helped cut the margin in half. Later he received a pass in transition from Casey Clarkson for a dunk that drew his team to within one at 77-76 with 2:30 remaining.
One for two at the free throw line by Clarkson maintained the one-point spread before the late run by the Eagles.
Ahoume scored 13 points and finished one rebound short of his second double-double in a row. Smith put together another strong second half, scoring 11 of his 13 points after the intermission.
Dent, a 6-3 guard from West Bladen High School, who was a red-shirt at Lander University last season, helped provide a steadying presence. He was 12-for-23 from the field and totaled 13 rebounds and three assists in the two games.
He is looking forward to taking a full team into the 7 p.m. home games against Mount Zion Prep and Lenoir CC on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"I'm definitely hoping that with the maturity they bring we'll be able to accomplish some big things this season," he said. "I'm trying to understand my role and what coach wants to execute in the game. Guys like Evan and Niem (Ratliff) and Cam (Williams) really played well after they got the butterflies out of their stomachs."
The six-game home stand to start the season concludes with the Flyer Invitational on Friday and Saturday.
"It's funny because after today we are going to kind of start over next week with nine guys coming back," Apple said.
Flyers extra – The Flyers nearly overcame a combined 50 turnovers in the two games with a big effort at both ends of the court. The 11 blocked shots by Ahoume (7) and sophomore Xavier Grissett (4) in the two games exceeded the total of four by their opponents. "We talked as a team that we were going to have to give it 100 per cent even though we don't have our full team," Grissett said. "Guys like me have been through this so we had to show the new guys the ropes."
WakeTech – Barker 6 1-4 14, Koraan Clemonts 8 8-12 26, Anumihe 3 1-3 7, Ellerbe 5 0-1 10, Armstrong 1 0-0 2, Robertson 0 0-0 0, Perry 3 2-2 9, Carroll 7 0-0 14, Wilder 2 2-2 6, Searcy 0 0-0 0 Totals 35 14-24 88. Sandhills – Clarkson 2 5-5 10, Dent 5 1-2 12, Williams 2 0-0 4, Ahoume 4 5-6 13, Walker 5 6-6 18, Ratliff 2 0-0 5, Grissett 0 2-2 2, Smith 4 4-7 13, Davis 1 0-0 2 Totals 25 23-28 79. Three-point goals: WT 4 (Clemonts 2, Barker, Perry); SCC 6 (Walker 2, Clarkson, Dent, Smith, Ratliff).
S4G – White 4 0-2 8, Kendall 4 6-10 14, Edwin 2 2-3 6, Steinman 1 0-0 3, Owens 4 4-6 14, Henderson 2 0-0 5, Goodwin 0 0-0 0, Van 0 2-2 2, Rowan 3 3-4 9, Armstrong 0 0-1 0 Totals 20 17-28 61; Sandhills – Clarkson 1 1-3 3, Dent 7 1-3 16, Williams 2 0-0 4, Ahoume 5 6-12 16, Walker 6 1-2 13, Ratliff 1 0-1 2, Grissett 1 0-2 2, Smith 3 3-8 9, Davis 1 1-1 3 Totals 27 13-32 68. Three-point goals: S4G 4 (Owens 2, Steinman, Henderson); SCC 1 (Dent).
by Charlie Bergmann
photo by Donna Ford