The Sandhills Community College basketball team staked an early claim to the Region X Conference championship with a convincing 109-96 victory over Central Carolina CC at the Hangar Wednesday evening.
With the game tied at 23-23, the Flyers took command by outscoring the Cougars 34-11 to take a 57-36 lead at the intermission. They maintained at least 12-point margin the rest of the way against the squad from Sanford.
Donnie Haith led the Flyers with 20 points to go with seven assists, five steals and three rebounds. Chase Morrisette-Barnett and Devian Smith chipped in with 16 points each, and Holt Walker added 13. The leading rebounders were Damauri Sexton and Evan Davis with nine boards apiece.
The Flyers take an overall record of 15-5, and a 4-0 mark in Region X, into Thursday's 6 p.m. non-conference home game against Clinton College of Rock Hill, SC.
With no conference tournament scheduled this year by agreement of the coaches, the Flyers' two wins over the Cougars (11-11, 2-2) in a three-team conference, clinched the title and a spot in the District VII tournament hosted by Sandhills on March 1-2. With one game remaining between the teams, the Flyers hold the tiebreaker in the event both teams finished with identical records of 4-2. The third team, Johnston CC, is currently 0-4 in the conference.
Flyers' coach Mike Apple once again deployed Haith, a point guard for his first season and a half, at a wing position, and Smith, a freshman, at point guard on the starting five. As the coach indicated before last Saturday's game against Johnston, the Flyers would try to turn both games into a track meet.
Also a high-scoring team, the Cougars kept up until the eight minute mark of the first half when Haith and Smith helped set off what turned out to be a decisive run. Mixed in with transition baskets by the pair, Morrisette-Barnett and Walker each drained a pair of threes.
"I was really pleased with the pace Devian set for us," Apple said. "He is so quick and aggressive and we got to see that in full display tonight. That's a heck of a weapon we have with Donnie on the wing and we want to keep that going.
"I thought we did a real good job in the second part of the first half and the first part of the second half."
Leading 68-43 on a three by Casey Clarkson at the 11 minute mark of the second half, a three by the Cougar's Jamar Butler capped a 21-8 Cougar burst that cut the margin to 76-64. But baskets by Clarkson and Morrisette-Barnett moved the Flyers back into a comfort zone.
"I give all the credit to Central because they gave a good effort," Apple said of the Cougar comeback. "They wouldn't quit and that was worrisome."
Flyers' extra - Sitting in the front row were Devian Smith's former coach at Elevation Prep in Charlotte, Rufus Brown, and eight of his players. "It feels good that they came to support me and I tried to put on a good show for them," he said. Calvin Ahoume saw more than 15 minutes of action in his second appearance since suffering an injury to his left hand on December 8. The 6-foot-7 forward contributed nine points, eight rebounds and a pair of assists. "My body felt really good and I'm glad to be back," he said. "I hadn't used my left hand for a month so I was a little bit worried, but I've gotten my confidence back."
Central Carolina – Everett 3 0-0 6, Alston 1 2-2 5, George 7 0-4 14, Reid 6 6-6 20, Jones 5 0-0 10, Moore 3 0-0 7, Guthrie 4 1-2 10, Wright 1 0-0 3, Carver 1 2-2 4, North 2 2-3 8, Butler 3 2-2 9 Totals 36 15-21 96. Sandhills – Morrisette- Barnett 7 0-2 16, Sexton 3 2-2 8, Haith 7 6-6 20, Smith 7 1-2 16, E. Davis 2 1-2 5, Grissett 0 0-0 0, Bryan 0 2-2 2, Dent 4 0-0 8, Allmond 1 1-2 3, Ahoume 2 5-9 9, Walker 4 2-4 13, Clarkson 3 0-0 7, Williams 1 0-0 2 Totals 41 20-31 109. Three-point goals: CCCC 9 (Reid 2, North 2, Alston, Moore, Guthrie, Wright, Butler); SCC 7 (Walker 3, Morrisette-Barnett 2, Smith, Clarkson).
by Charlie Bergmann
photo by Donna Ford