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Sandhills' Saviyon Staton goes up for a dunk in Monday's win over Guilford Tech. Staton was an all-tournament selection last year during the Flyers' run to the national championship.

Energy and emotions pent up from four months of preseason practices and scrimmages spilled over on Monday night as the Sandhills men’s basketball team opened its season against Guilford Technical Community College.

The game marked 318 days since the Sandhills men’s basketball team cut down the nets in Minnesota for the program’s second NJCAA national title, and the build up for the on-court return was well overdue for the players.

“Too many practices. Way too many practices, but we kept fighting through practicing and the games have finally come,” sophomore point guard Corry Addison said after the 120-118 win. “It was ugly, but we got it done.”

The NJCAA allowed basketball teams to start practice in September, and the Flyers played a handful of exhibitions in October and November, before one final exhibition on Saturday to lead into the start of the regular season.

The energy from the youthful Sandhills team showed in spurts against the Titans.

“You can imagine practicing since September and not getting to play any meaningful games until Jan. 22. It’s been a long time,” Sandhills coach Mike Apple said. “They were just so excited with what went on today and I was happy they were excited. It carried over in the first 10 minutes of the game.”

With the highs and lows of the game on Monday, so went the energy level from the Flyers.

“It was going up and down,” sophomore guard Saviyon Staton said of the team’s energy level. “We started out great with great energy, then we got in a little slump, but we was able to fight back and end with great energy to get the win.”

Addison said he wants to see the energy on the floor match what was shown on the sideline at times in the victory.

“The energy was great, but we’ve got to learn to put a lot more energy to the game, instead of on the sidelines,” he said. “We’ve got to talk more and play better defense.”

Being the only team to win a national championship in all of college basketball in 2020, the Flyers know what to expect night in and night out. Add to that, the team has made the move up a division to the NJCAA Division II this season after the association announced last week that it would not sponsor a Division III national championship.

“Even though we moved up to the D2, we still are still looked at as the champions, the only champions from the 2020 season,” Staton said. “I think there's a big target on our back.”

Monday’s opener was the first of 18 Region X games on the schedule for the Flyers.

The target on the Flyers’ backs is as obvious as the banner hanging on the wall in The Hangar, and it’s an easy point of motivation for the Flyers’ opponents this season, Apple said.

“Automatically when that happens, you get your team’s attention,” he said. “They come in here and want to play good against us, and we get that. That’s fine. I’d rather it be that way than not that way.”

After going 34-2 last season, the modified schedule for this season will not allow Sandhills to come close to matching that win total, but playing in Division II with a chance to repeat is something Apple wants his team to know is still possible against tougher competition.

“I don’t care what happens this year, we’re not going to match what we did last year,” Apple said of the 22-game schedule. “They’ve got to still understand we can still be successful and this can still be a memorable year.

“We’re going to have to play 40 minutes or more every night. We’ve got to play more consistently. We can’t have lapses.”

Sandhills plays at Patrick Henry Community College on Saturday.

Contact Jonathan Bym at (910) 693-2470 or jonathan@thepilot.com.

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