The Statesboro boys found themselves locked in a battle at halftime of their first round Class AAAAA state playoff game against Bainbridge Saturday evening.
The Blue Devils were a No. 2 seed and have spent the majority of the season bouncing around the state’s top-10 rankings, but — due to missed layups and free throws — held just a 22-16 lead over the Bearcats at halftime.
And that’s when the Devils really came to play. Statesboro more than doubled up Bainbridge until the final seconds of the game, running away with what turned out to be a comfy 55-35 victory.
“We just made too many simple mistakes early on,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “It looked like we were playing too tight. We stressed to the kids to have fun and play their game at halftime. We got into our rhythm and things got a lot better for us.”
After a few traded buckets to begin the third quarter, the Devils (22-5) notched a double-digit lead midway through the period. Tyler Goodman (12 points) canned a 3 as the buzzer sounded on the third quarter to make it a 42-25 lead for Statesboro.
Statesboro has often won big games with deadly outside shooting and a press that forces mistakes. This year’s squad plays a bit against script, but the win column has continued to fill up as quickly as ever
Zarion Griffin — who led the way with 20 points — combined with Goodman, Daniel Cooper and Jaylon Hicks to slice through the Bearcat defense and find points in the paint time after time. On the other side of the court, Bainbridge (10-18) was allowed to get the ball over the timeline, but Statesboro’s length and quickness led to plenty of rebounds and steals, leading into a transition game that played into their mentality of driving to the basket for easy points.
“Once we settled down, everything came together,” Hill said. “We had a lot of guys contributing and playing as a team. Setting up (in a half-court defense) helped us to conserve some energy and stay in the right place on defense, and that led to us making some big plays.”
As the turnovers mounted, so too did the layups that wouldn’t go down earlier in the game. Bainbridge continued to contest things up and down the court, but could never get its offense going after halftime and watched as the SHS lead quickly became insurmountable in the fourth quarter.
The win made for a fun celebration at the Devil’s Den, but there’s no telling when — or if — Statesboro will get another chance to play on its home court this season. Next up for Statesboro is Dutchtown.
The Bulldogs stand at just 16-15 on the season and needed a play-in victory in their region tournament to even assure themselves of a state playoff bid, but they are riding a five-game winning streak and - as their region tournament champion — have a No. 1 state seed and will get to host Statesboro on Thursday.
“They’re a big team and they’ve really turned the corner over the last month,” Hill said. “We’re going to need to be at our best, but if we can play that way, I know we’ve got a shot.”