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End of the line
SHS comes up short in Final Four
030213 BKB SHS HOOPS 02
The faces of the Stateboro starters tell the story of the day as the final seconds tick down on the Blue Devil's 69-42 loss.

    FORT VALLEY —Statesboro’s dream season turned into a nightmare Saturday evening as Columbia rolled to a 69-42 victory to eliminate the Blue Devils in the Final Four of the Class AAAA state tournament.
     The Blue Devils (28-4) fell one win shy of making the state title game for the first time since the 1991-92 season. The Eagles (27-3) entered the season as three-time defending Class AAA state champions and will play either Eagle’s Landing or South Atlanta next week in Macon for a title in their first year at the Class AAAA level.
    “It’s a disappointing way to end it, but this was definitely a great season,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “We accomplished a lot of big things. We’re a young team with a lot coming back, so hopefully we can build on that.”
    Statesboro knew that it had to watch out for Columbia point guard and Auburn signee Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who came into the contest averaging 26 points per game.
    Shamsid-Deen had 25 in the first half alone on his way to a dominating 32 point performance.
    The game couldn’t have started off better for Statesboro. The opening tip bounced free and Zaquavian Smith corralled it and went up uncontested for a two-handed jam. Smith raced down the court in celebration, but hobbled off of the floor minutes later with an apparent injury to his left leg.
    With Smith out, the Eagles built an 18-10 lead early in the second quarter. The Devils’ leading scorer willed his way back onto the court and proceeded to drain a midrange jumper, but his leg gave out again. Smith returned to start the second half, but played just two minutes before leaving the game for good with just four points.
    “Losing Smith was huge,” Hill said. “He had just made a jumper to cut the lead to four points, and then he’s out. He’s one of our best offensive and defensive players, so we really missed him on both ends of the floor.”
    After Smith was helped off of the floor, Shamsid-Deen and the Eagles started to pour it on. Shamsid-Deen scored the final 14 points of the first half for Columbia and — while Yakeem Coleman drained a deep 3 and both Alex Simmons and Jaquell Harper found some room to work inside — the Eagles took a commanding 39-23 lead into halftime.
    Even with Smith on the shelf and Simmons on the bench with foul trouble, the Devils tried to make a run. Daniel Houston hit a 3 midway through the third quarter that was followed by an O’Aaron Ware layup and — upon his return — an inside bucket from Simmons. Ware, who led all SHS scorers with nine points, drained a 3 from the top of the key to pull Statesboro within 44-33, but Shamsid-Deen drove for two layups to push the Columbia lead back to 49-35 after three quarters.
    In the final period, Maurice Rivers (14 points) helped to seal the deal for the Eagles. Statesboro kept its deficit hanging around 12 points in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, but Rivers converted a three-point play with 4:50 to go and hit a jumper on Columbia’s next possession. A two-handed jam from Rivers with three minutes to go put the game out of reach.
    “Our guys tried to scrap for a while,” Hill said. “We made a few shots and kept cutting the lead down around 10 or 11 points. Columbia was just the better team. They showed why they’ve had so much success.”

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