The Sandhills Community College basketball team came to Illinois this week in search of the program's third national championship in the last ten years.
Trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half of Wednesday's NJCAA Division II quarterfinal game against No. 1 seeded Davidson-Davie CC, the Flyers rallied to take one-point leads twice in the final five minutes of the game.
Ahead by one with just under a minute remaining on a basket by Dharyus Thomas, the Flyers had their chances, but were unable to score again. The Storm went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe to complete the scoring in the 82-78 loss.
Thomas scored 14 of his team-high 19 points in the second half to lead the Flyer comeback.
Plan B for Coach Mike Apple's squad is to win the next two games and take fifth place on Saturday in the tournament held at Danville Area CC in Danville, Illinois.
On Friday at 4 p.m. the No. 8 seeded Flyers (20-5) will meet the loser of Thursday's 9 p.m. quarterfinal contest between No. 4 seed Garrett College of McHenry, Maryland (16-0) and No. 5 Ancilla CC of Donaldson, Indiana (14-1).
"Our goal was to win a national championship and that was crushed tonight," Apple said afterward. "The guys are really down.
"We understand it would be really good to finish this season on a positive note with a couple of wins. The best thing about the way this is set up is that we don't have to play until Friday."
Against a team that had handed them three of their four losses this season coming into the game, the Flyers made only three field goals and trailed 16-10 midway through the first half. With three minutes remaining until the intermission, a put-back by Chase Mebane gave the Storm a 39-25 lead.
A pair of free throws by Savion Staton cut the deficit to 11 points at the intermission, but with 15:46 remaining in the game, the Storm rebuilt the lead to 51-36.
The Flyer comeback began with a jumper by Corry Addison. Thomas then erupted to score nine points in a row, reducing the deficit to eight points.
Later, trailing 59-49 at the ten minute mark, a baseline drive by Nasir Johnson ignited an 11-0 Flyer run that ended with Bryan Quiller turning an offensive board into a three-point play that gave the Flyers a 60-59 lead with 6:30 remaining in the game.
The Flyers responded dramatically again after the Storm bounced back to move ahead a 74-64 on its final field goal of the game with 3:47 remaining.
Following a pair of free throws by Quiller, Addison quickly turned a steal into a dunk by Quiller. Thomas then stole the ball in the back court and turned it into another dunk.
The 14-3 run that gave the Flyers the 78-77 lead also included a jumper by Addison, pair of free throws by Johnson, a steal and a basket by Staton, and the go-ahead field goal by Thomas. The Storm scored its final eight points of the game on free throws in 10 attempts.
Other double-figure scorers for the Flyers were Addison and Quiller with 14 points each and Staton with 10.
Davidson moves into one of the semifinal games on Friday against the winner of Thursday's game between Ancilla CC and Garrett CC.
With coaches from four year colleges on hand, reaching out to some of his players, Apple is confident they will put their best foot forward in the hopefully two remaining games.
"There is no quit in our guys," he said during an NJCAA Network post-game interview. "We played extremely hard and we battled them tooth and nail. Just a bad break here and there was the difference in the basketball game.
"I think if we had played a little better in the first half and not gotten down so much, it would have been a different game tonight."