Statesboro begins what it hopes will be a long postseason road tonight as it hosts Banneker in the first round of the Georgia High School Association playoffs.
The Blue Devils (19-9, 7-3 Region 2-AAAA) used a late regular season run to grab a No. 2 seed in their region tournament and came within seconds of winning the region title before falling to Richmond Hill.
Statesboro enters the state playoffs as a No. 2 seed and will take on the Trojans, who are the No. 3 seed out of Region 4-AAAA.
Despite coming up just short of a region title, the Devils are glad to be at home in the state tournament.
Last season, an upset sent SHS on the road in the first round where they were quickly dispatched.
“Being at home is definitely a big advantage for us,” said Statesboro coach Lee Hill. “Last year, we had to go to Glenn Hills. That’s a real tough place to play. This season, we’re matched up with Region 4, so it’s big that we get to play at home instead of traveling all the way to Atlanta.”
Banneker makes its way into tonight’s matchup by way of some timely region tournament wins that halted a late season slide.
The Trojans (15-14, 9-11) sat at 9-6 in region play on January 25, but dropped their final five games of the regular season and slipped from second place down to fifth. Banneker rebounded just in time, taking down Mt. Zion in the opening round of the Region 4-AAAA tournament and upsetting No. 3 seed Riverdale to earn a spot in the state playoffs.
Banneker lost to region champion Jonesboro in the semifinals, but took down North Clayton in the tournament’s consolation game to earn a No. 3 seed in the state playoffs.
Statesboro’s biggest concern with the Trojans is their balance.
Banneker has four players averaging over 10 points per game and employ a trapping defense similar to the Devils.
Key for Statesboro will be the opening minutes as the Devils have built a reputation for starting slowly and had to rally in all three games of their region tournament.
“We know that we don’t have as much offense as some teams in the tournament,” said Hill. “But we improved a lot as a defensive team over the year. We need to come out playing good defense and not let (Banneker) get going early.”
If the Devils can stall the Trojan attack, they will likely look to senior Jaqawn Raymond to provide the necessary points to put SHS through to the next round.
Raymond was the leading scorer in the region tournament — including a 35-point outburst in the Devils’ upset of fifth-ranked Brunswick — and is capable of carrying Statesboro offensively.
The winner of tonight’s game will move on to face either No. 1 seed Fayette County or No. 4 Northside, Warner Robins in the second round.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.