A high school/college basketball doubleheader gets underway at the Hangar on Saturday at 5 p.m. with Union Pines meeting Apex Friendship in the MLK Challenge, followed by Sandhills Community College entertaining Johnston Community College at 7 p.m.
The nightcap is a Region X contest that will be followed by another home conference game against Central Carolina CC at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. The two games will go a long way toward determining the winner of the region and the right to host the District 7 tournament on March 1-2.
"Our team is different from the first time we played those teams," Flyers' coach Mike Apple said on Wednesday, referring to the hand injury that has sidelined Calvin Ahoume, and the recent automobile accident that injured Delton Davis and Tavarus Peterson. "Calvin, Tavarus and Delton played big roles the first time we played those teams and they aren't with us right now."
Winners of six of their last seven games, the Flyers are 13-5 overall and 2-0 in the conference. Johnston CC comes in at 2-13 and 0-3. Central Carolina is 10-10 and right on the heels of the Flyers with a 2-1 record in the conference. The teams face each other three times in the three-team league.
There will be no conference tournament. The team with the best conference record hosts the District 7 tournament that will also include one team from Region 17 (Georgia) and two teams from Region 20 (Maryland/Pennsylvania).
"This means the game on Saturday is huge," Apple said. "I know the guys understand the situation, but we're prepared for it and we should have a tremendous crowd.
"My message to my team is we're going to have a track meet here on Saturday and again on Wednesday. We're going to put pressure on and try to play as fast as we can."
Delton Davis, Peterson and Zion Copeland, who was also injured in the accident and is redshirting this year, are making progress in their recoveries and taking their classes online at home. Ahoume, who hasn't played since early December, has had the cast taken off his injured finger. He is receiving physical therapy and is participating in the conditioning activities during basketball practices.
Ahoume was the team's leading rebounder and led the nation in blocked shots at the time of his injury. The three combined to average 25 points per game. Apple has shuffled some positions and some players have taken on different roles.
Helping make up some of the scoring deficit are sophomores Chase Morrisette-Barnett, who has averaged 22 points per game over the last three, Demauri Sexton with a career-high 23 points at Lee-McRae on Wednesday and Donnie Haith, who has been averaging 15 points per game for the last month and a half.
The return of point guard Casey Clarkson from an injury has helped the situation as has the defensive play of 6-foot-7 freshman Evan Davis in the paint. Freshman Sayaun Dent scored a season-high 19 points on Wednesday.
As for Saturday's contest that provides an early celebration of Martin Luther Day, Union Pines is coached by Nick Boney who was on Apple's staff at Pinecrest High School before the latter came to Sandhills in 2011 and Apex Friendship is coached by PJ Lowman who was on Apple's first staff at Pinecrest in 2003. The Vikings took a 6-7 record into Friday's game against Triton. Apex Friendship is currently 12-3.
by Charlie Bergmann
photo by Donna Ford