UPDATE: SCC used a second half surge to defeat Herkimer today, earning a berth in the semifinals of the NJCAA Division III National championship.
The No. 1 ranked Sandhills Community College basketball team has been named the No. 1 overall seed for the NJCAA Division III National Championship to be held in Rochester, Minn., today (Wednesday) through Saturday.
Coach Mike Apple and members of the Region 10 and Mid-Atlantic District champion Flyers assembled at Boyd Library on the campus last Thursday afternoon to watch the online broadcast of the NJCAA Selection Show.
Sandhills (31-2), along with No. 2 Mohawk Valley, N.Y., (27-2), No. 3 Eastfield, Texas, (26-6) and No. 4 Rochester Tech (25-5), will receive byes into Thursday’s quarterfinal round.
The Flyers will meet the winner of Wednesday’s game between No. 8 seeded Herkimer, N.Y., (22-7) and No. 9 Columbus State, Ohio, (19-7) at 2 p.m. ET.
All of the tournament games will be live streamed on NJCAA Championship TV. The cost is $4.99 per game and $14.99 for a championship pass.
This year’s tournament will be a return engagement for a Flyer squad that finished in fifth place at the 2019 tournament also held at Rochester Regional Sports Center.
It will also be the program’s fourth appearance in the national tournament in Apple’s nine years at Sandhills, including a national title in 2012.
“The fact that Sandhills is going as the No. 1 seed is a great accomplishment for our basketball program,” the coach said. “We took seven guys who are playing for us this year to the national tournament last year. They absolutely wore me out talking about Minnesota, the experience they had and wanting to go back this year.
“They made that their mission from the time they got back from Minnesota and hats off to them they are getting back there. I’m proud of them and I’m excited for them.”
The team flew to Minnesota Monday. A victory Thursday would put them in a semifinal game at 4 p.m. Friday. The championship final, preceded by the fifth-place and third-place consolation games, is set for 4 p.m. Saturday.
A year ago, the Flyers went to Minnesota as a No. 7 seed. They trailed Herkimer, the eventual national champion, 40-22 at halftime on the way to a 76-64 loss. They bounced back to win the next two games in the consolation bracket, including an 87-78 victory over Suffolk County, N.Y., the No. 1 overall seed.
“I always take those things with a grain of salt since hardly any of these teams play one another,” Apple said of the seedings. “My reaction is that whoever we face, Herkimer or Columbus State, will be an extremely good team we need to be prepared for to have the chance to advance.”
As Sandhills was being announced as the No. 1 seed, the Flyer players roared as a video of Sayaun Dent dunking a ball in transition in a game this season came across the screen. The 6-foot-3 forward is the only returnee to have started all three games in Minnesota last year.
The Region 10 Player of the Year leads the team in scoring (17.7) and rebounds (7.6), including 11 double-doubles. Afterward he was asked about the tough outing against Herkimer in last year’s opener.
“I think it was probably nerves more than anything because in the second half we started playing good basketball,” he said.
Tyrell Allmond, Winston Bryan, Evan Davis, Niem Ratliffe and Cameron Williams are the other Flyers who played in last year’s tournament. Elijah Idlett and Savion Staton made the trip as redshirts. Both came back inspired to help the team return.
“It was playoff-style basketball,” Staton, a 6-2 guard, recalled. “Everybody plays hard because you know if you lose you go home. It feels great going back. Last year I had to help my teammates in practice. This year I get to help them on the court.”
A 6-0 freshman guard, Nathan Yow had the experience of playing in a national tournament (NACA) as a member of the team at Grace Christian School a year ago.
“I’m excited and ready to go there and take care of business and win some games,” he said. “I think we have great team chemistry. We all play together and if we play Sandhills basketball I think we’ll be OK.”
The Flyers have won 15 games in a row. They lead Division III in scoring with an average 105.6 points per game. Their only losses were to Caldwell Tech (28-3) and USC Salkehatchie (25-4), who happen to be competing at The Hangar this week for the Division I Region 10 title and a berth in the Division I tournament next week in Hutchinson, Kansas.
The 12-team field consists of eight district champions and four at-large selections. In addition to Sandhills, the district champions with seeding in parenthesis are Mohawk Valley (2), Eastfield (3), Rochester (4), Hostos, N.Y., (6), Montgomery, Md., (7), Columbus State (9) and Rhode Island (12). The at-large teams are: Richland, Texas, (5), Herkimer, N.Y., (8), Nassau, N.Y., (10) and St. Cloud, Minn., (11).
“The seeding is great and we’re certainly thrilled with it,” Apple said, “but it’s about playing the games, a good first half, a good second half and we’ll see what happens after that.”
This article was provided by the SCC athletics department.