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Devils get started in state playoffs
021513 BKB SHS HOOPS 02
Statesboro's Zaquavian Smith, center, is congratulated after hitting a 3-point shot at the buzzer to end the third quarter against Butler during Friday's Region 3-AAAA Championship. Smith scored 40 points. The No. 1 seed Blue Devils host No. 4 seed Baldwin today at 7 p.m. at the Devil's Den in the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs.

    For three action-packed nights last week, the Statesboro Blue Devils clawed and scratched their way to three thrilling victories and a Region 3-AAAA tournament championship.
    Now the real fun begins.
    The top-seeded Blue Devils begin the Class AAAA state playoffs tonight as they host Baldwin — No. 4 seed out of Region 2-AAAA.
    While the Braves’ 16-13 season record isn’t nearly as gaudy as the 26-3 mark that has kept the Devils in the top-10 polls throughout the entire regular season, the playoffs pose a win-or-go-home scenario that can put even the most successful teams on edge.
    “There are only a few teams left playing at this time of year,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “When you look at that, the records don’t matter much. All of the teams that are left are good teams that have played their way in and nobody can afford to not play their best.”
    Despite all of Statesboro’s success this season, tonight’s game will still be a relatively new experience for most of the Devils. Only a couple of Statesboro’s regulars saw playing time in the Devils’ last state playoff game — a first round loss to Banneker in 2011 — and key contributors to this year’s squad like Alex Simmons and O’Aaron Ware will be seeing their first state playoff action.
    All of the banners hanging in the Devil’s Den are a testament to the accomplishments of past teams, but this one still has plenty to prove on the state level.
    “It’s always a concern when you have guys playing in the state playoffs for the first time,” Hill said. “I think that we have a pretty good team with some good talent, but they have to be able to take it to that next level when they’re playing in the postseason.”
    Statesboro’s first test will be a Baldwin squad that is as athletic as any team that the Blue Devils have faced so far.
    The Braves stumbled through the last few weeks of the regular season, but showed their talent and resolve in notching a region tournament win over a Veterans team that had beaten them twice in the regular season.
    Baldwin is led by Marquise Williams, who has scored 15 or more points nine times this season. Stopping Williams will be key as the Braves don’t have any other players averaging double-digit scoring for the season.
    The Devils will counter with the consistency that carried them to a great regular season performance.
    Zaquavian Smith (15.1 points per game), Yakeem Coleman (10.8) and Simmons (10.2) are all threats to explode for a huge night — Smith is coming off of a 40-point outburst in the Devils’ region championship game — and Statesboro rarely wears down as 10 different players see regular time on the court.
    “We have a team full of guys who all know what they have to do to help us win,” Hill said. “We’re lucky to have a few different guys that we can look to for points. The big thing is that we play as a team.”
    The winner of tonight’s game will take on either Jonesboro or Crisp County Saturday night in the Sweet Sixteen.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.