Sandhills Machine Class of 2024 (9th grade) completed the back-to-back by winning the basketball Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) North Carolina State Championship, held at Greensboro Coliseum on June 13.
During Saturday’s pool play, the team went 1-1, dropping the first game to a very tough Charlotte Royals 69 – 65 in double overtime. Sandhills Machine had two opportunities to win the game; one in the closing seconds of regulation, and the last one during the closing seconds of the second overtime. The loss was definitely an eye-opener that sent them back to the drawing board to reevaluate how they close out games.
The one bright spot was Jaylin Morgan’s on-ball defense which was phenomenal and constantly disrupted the flow of the Royals’ offense. Jaylen Sturdivant led the team in scoring with 21 points, Salah Sutton 15 points, A’Zir Gillespie 11 points and Jullien Cole 10 points.
Sandhills Machine faced a scrappy Carolina Jayhawks to finish up pool play defeating them 75 – 52. The Jayhawks are known for their good three-point shooting. Sandhills Machine stepped up their defensive efforts and forced the shooters off the three-point line. The defense resembled its old self and was nothing short of superb. The most impressive stat line was 33 rebounds followed by 13 assists. Nehemiah McDonald led the team with 17 points and nine rebounds, followed by Jullien Cole 14 points and Kaedon Porter 10 points.
Sandhills Machine started Sunday’s elimination bracket play against a familiar foe, the Durham Hurricanes, which they defeated 59 – 49 in a rough and tough back and forth competitive game. They say defense wins championships, and this was strictly a defensive effort from all 11 players with balanced scoring.
Next up in the semi-finals was the Winston Salem Hustlers who had been on a tear knocking down opponent after opponent like dominoes. Jaylin Morgan, the motor of the defense, stole the ball four times within the first three minutes setting the tables for the effort that would be required to accomplish the win. Sandhills Machine finished them off 62 – 58 and was led by Jaylen Sturdivant 22 points and Chase Evans 16 points.
Sandhills Machine – vs – Charlotte Royals for the championship 67 – 59:
Sandhills Machine wasn’t taking any chances. The Royals’ are a top-notch team, and there would be no let-up. Sandhills Machine started the game on fire with Jaylen Sturdivant, Chase Evans, and Jullien Cole knocking down shot after shot. Their shot-making along with tenacious defense from Jaylin Morgan, Salah Sutton, and A’Zir Gillespie held the Royals at bay until the fourth quarter where they made a very impressive run and cut the double-digit lead down to 3 points.
Sandhills Machine players were assisted on 16 made baskets and were led by Jullien Cole 23 points and 8 rebounds, Jaylen Sturdivant 14 points, Chase Evans 10 points, and Jaylin Morgan 9 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds.
Their goal to repeat as AAU NC State Champions was accomplished through hard-nosed man-to-man defense with Nehemiah McDonald and Robert Tatem coming off the bench to providing additional pressure. The guard play from A’Zir Gillespie, Mikhi Nobles, Kaedon Porter, Chase Evans, and Salah Sutton was exceptional. The newcomer to the team, Mason Patterson, in limited minutes, made his presence known. You must be able to guard, and he locked down and showed that getting stops is in his DNA.
Sandhills Machine 2024 competed and won the NTBA NC State Championship in Charlotte on May 23. These two accomplishments bring their total to six state championships and six national championships. Upcoming major events are AAU World Championship and Prep Hoops Circuit Passion Region Finals.
“Special thanks to all those who made it possible; Sandhills Machine’s volunteers, members and parents, First Bank, Blendz Barbershop, Jasmine Green (Realtor), Kimberly Sutton, and all the silent donors,” said Sandhills Machine Coach Cash Sutton.
Feature photo: Left to right: Mason Patterson, Salah Sutton, Mikhi Nobles, A’Zir Gillespie, Kaedon Porter, Chase Evans Jullien Cole, Jaylin Morgan, Nehemiah McDonald, Jaylen Sturdivant, and Robert Tatem. Not pictured is Shomarii Hailey.