Following Sunday's 119-54 victory over Combine Academy, the Sandhills Community College basketball players walked across the court at the Hangar and mingled with the large and festive Sophomore Day crowd.
The outcome was evident almost from the start as the all-sophomore starting lineup jumped out to a 28-3 lead that was stretched out to 67-16 at the half. Sophomore Damauri Sexton led the Flyers with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Coach Mike Apple's squad takes a record of 21-8 into the District VII tournament hosted by Sandhills this Friday and Saturday. The Flyers are expected to meet Anne Arundel CC (10-16) of Arnold, MD at 6 p.m. on Friday. Princes Georges CC (21-5) of Largo, MD, the No. 10 ranked team in last week's NJCAA Division III poll, will face West Georgia Tech (15-9) at 4 p.m.
The winner of the district title game at 1 p.m. on Saturday becomes one of eight qualifiers for the NJCAA Division III Championship in Rochester, Minn. on March 14-16.
"I don't know if when you break it down that was the greatest opponent to play prior to the district tournament," Apple said of the prep squad from Charlotte. "It's so hard trying to put a schedule together to give us good opponents toward the end of the season. However, this being our last game (regular season), and Sophomore Day, I couldn't have wished for anything better."
The afternoon began with the honoring of sophomores Sexton, Chase Morrisette-Barnett, Xavier Grissett, Donnie Haith, Casey Clarkson, Tavarus Peterson and Calvin Ahoume, and student assistant Frank Wishart. Haith opened the scoring with a three. The visitors were held to just one field goal in the first 10 minutes of the game. Clarkson, who drained three treys in the first half, was especially enjoying his time on the court with Sexton and Grissett, who are all in their third year at Sandhills after red-shirting as freshmen.
"It was amazing," the point guard said after contributing 13 points, four rebounds and seven assists to the Flyers' cause. "The three-year guys have been my biggest motivation along with coach Apple and the other guys. Being on the court with them at the same time was beautiful."
Early in the second half, Grissett was a part of a play that left a smile on the face of the 6-foot-6 forward and his teammates that was hard to erase. Cutting toward the basket from the opposite side, he received an alley-oop pass from Morrisette-Barnett. The timing was perfect and he dunked the ball for two of his eight points to go with four boards and two blocked shots.
Afterward he deflected the attention away from the spectacular play.
"This is my last year and everybody was in a good mood and ready to play our last regular season home game," he said. "All the sophomores were here to prove we're all here for each other. My best moments at Sandhills have been with my two teammates who have been with me for three years, Casey and Damauri."
Sharing the ball well, the Flyers matched a season-high with their 33 assists. Other double-figure scorers included Sayaun Dent with 14 points along with eight rebounds and five assists, Holt Walker with 12 points, Morrisette-Barnett and Devian Smith with 11 and Haith with 10.
"I thought our crowd was good and very welcoming, and appreciative of the efforts of our sophomores," Apple said. "I thought they gave that right back to them in the way they played.
"I think what you can say about where Sandhills basketball is right now is that we have a tradition. What was heartwarming was to see Shane Garrison and Parrish Stevons, who played last year, come to this game today to see the guys they played with last year. My feeling is the guys are proud to wear our jersey."
Still stinging a bit for Clarkson was the 87-79 loss to Central Carolina CC in the team's previous game.
"We played well tonight after losing to Central," he said. "We had been winning a lot and that was the wakeup call we needed. Now I'm ready for next week."
Flyers extra – Peterson, who along with teammates Delton Davis and redshirt-freshman Zion Copeland are recovering from injuries suffered in an automobile accident in early January, all attended the game. "My recovery is going pretty well," said Peterson who dislocated a hip and is hoping to be released by the doctor to resume activity this week. During the halftime intermission, sophomore Abby Wallace was recognized at mid-court for earning All-American honors as a member of the Lady Flyers' volleyball team.
Combine Academy – Slater 4 0-0 8, Quinones 0 0-0 0, Bell 6 3-7 16, Cubia 0 0-0 0, Payne 3 2-6 8, Julia 0 1-2 1, Limehouse 2 0-0 5, Muradov 0 0-0 0, Hunt 4 1-2 11, Gaines 1 2-4 5 Totals 20 9-21 54. Sandhills – Morrisette-Barnett 3 3-4 11, Grissett 3 2-2 8, Sexton 6 4-4 16, Haith 4 1-1 10, Clarkson 4 2-2 13, Bryan 1 2-2 5, Smith 4 2-2 11, Dent 5 4-4 14, Allmond 4 1-5 9, Williams 0 0-0 0, Ahoume 4 0-0 8, Walker 6 0-0 12, E. Davis 1 0-1 2 Totals 45 21-27 119. Three-point goals: CA 5 ( Hunt 2, Gaines, Limehouse, Bell); SCC 8 (Clarkson 3, Morrisette-Barnett 2, Haith, Bryan, Smith).
by Charlie Bergmann
photo by Donna Ford