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Missed free throws end Devils' title hopes
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Statesboro High's Rashad Lee, left, tries to console teammate Eric Ferguson after Ferguson missed two technical foul shots with 2.9 seconds left in Tuesday's playoff game against Jonesboro. The Blue Devil's fell 58-57 when Jonesboro's Antonio Bell stole a pass intended for Ferguson as time expired.
    Statesboro’s dream run has ended.
    Jonesboro took a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, then watched the Blue Devils miss chance after chance for a last-moment win and held on for a 58-57 victory in the second round of the GHSA state tournament Tuesday at SHS.
    The Cardinals (24-5) went up 54-47 with three minutes left, but SHS clawed its way back into the game and took the lead with 45 seconds left on an Eric Ferguson 3-point play.
    Antonio Bell recaptured the lead for JHS on two free throws 10 seconds later, setting up a wild and emotional finish.
    Ferguson missed a runner with 11.3 left, but the ball went out of bounds off of Jonesboro. Rashad Lee then missed a short jumper but Mario Jackson fought for the rebound and was fouled with 4.4 to go.
    Jackson missed both his attempts, but Jonesboro was called for traveling on the rebound. The Cardinals were then given a technical for arguing the call with 2.9 remaining, sending Ferguson to the line. The senior missed both shots short, but the Blue Devils still had the ball at halfcourt.
    Jackson inbounded the ball to sophomore Theo Rich in the left corner who tried to bounce it to Ferguson driving the lane. Jonesboro’s Bell knocked the ball away and time ran out.
    “I’m real proud of them,” said SHS coach Lee Hill. “This team came a long way since the beginning of the season. A lot of (junior varsity) guys played their heart out. “
    The fast and furious finish was in complete contrast to the first half in which both teams played a slow-paced game.
    The Devils (17-12) led 12-11 after a first quarter with four lead changes.  JaQwan Raymond then entered the contest and had the biggest game of his young career.
    Raymond’s 3 at 2:10 of the second brought SHS within one at 22-21. He drained another long ball a minute later to keep Statesboro alive after getting down 27-21.
    The first half ended almost as wildly as the second. Ferguson missed the second shot of a 1-and-1 with three seconds left and the teams headed for the locker room with JHS leading 30-27.
    But the officials double checked the table and found Ferguson should have been in the double bonus, giving the senior an extra shot. He made the free throw, then stole the ensuing inbounds and hit a fade away jumper from the corner at the buzzer to tie the game at 30.
    Bell and fellow guard Brandon Hosley began to assert themselves in the third quarter for the Cards. After JHS went 1-for-7 from 3-land in the first half, the tandem began to find a rhythm and hit four of their team’s six second half 3s.
    Hosley’s 3 early in the third tied the game at 36, then Bell buried one to make it 39-36 before Raymond answered to tie it back at 39.
    Bell finished with 20 while Hosley added 12. Eight different Cardinals scored. Jonesboro made 15 of their 23 free throws.
    Ferguson had 27 for SHS while Raymond had 11 and Lee had 10. Statesboro was 7-of-21 from the line and was out-rebounded 24-15.
    “We missed some big free throws, but we had a great season — region champs” said Hill. “I would’ve liked to have gone a little further, but that’s how the game goes.”

    Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.