It may have been the first round of the state playoffs, but for a team with state title hopes for this season, it looked like just another day at the office.
The Lady Blue Devils weathered a track meet in the early minutes, then put their experience and athleticism on display in taking a 72-62 victory over Lee County Friday night at the Devil’s Den.
With the win, Statesboro advances to the second round. The Devils will play again Tuesday as they travel to take on No. 1 seed Jonesboro.
Trailing for almost all of the night, the Lady Trojans closed their deficit to 51-45 on Nicole Polk’s free throw to begin the fourth quarter. Not about to let down, Statesboro answered as Kiyera Whitaker scored 10 of her 14 points in the final quarter to help the Devils pull away.
“At this point of the season, we don’t care if we win by 20, 10 or one pont,” SHS coach Jeff Seier said. “We’re just happy to win and keep playing. We played a tough team tonight, but we were able to get the job done.”
Having signed college scholarships before the season began in November, Statesboro’s Alisia Jenkins and Sierra Kirkland showed exactly why they have plenty of basketball remaining after this year’s playoff run. Jenkins scored a game high 25 points and hauled in 13 rebounds while Kirkland went for 13 points in the win.
All of the offense was necessary in a first quarter that quickly turned into a track meet.
Jenkins and Kirkland dominated the paint early, scoring bucket after bucket. But consecutive threes by Maggie O’Connor and Natalie Shiver helped to pull the Trojans even and the Devils managed just a 21-20 lead after the first eight minutes.
The second quarter saw the Devil defense start to impose its will.
Still locked in a back and forth game nearing halftime, Jenkins notched one of her five steals and went the distance for a layup. On Lee County’s next possession, Aneisha Drummer poked the ball loose and found Shanice Walker (13 points) for another easy bucket to help the Devils build a 41-33 halftime lead.
“It’s nice to get everyone involved,” Seier said. “We had a lot of girls step up to keep us ahead tonight.”
For all the fireworks that the first half supplied, the game ground to a halt in the third quarter.
Errant passes, tough defense and an officiating crew with quick whistles led to a quarter filled with numerous turnovers and an inability for either team to find a rhythm.
“I think that both teams got a little tired,” Seier said. “We ran up and down so much early that our legs started to get a little tired. When that happens, things can get sloppy.”
With the Devil offense struggling, the Trojans tried to make a comeback. DaQuanna Moore (23 points) was able to work her way into the paint and — with Jenkins and Kirkland struggling with foul trouble — recorded four offensive rebounds and put-back buckets.
Even though the Lee County defense shut down Statesboro’s bread and butter — Jenkins and Kirkland combined for just six second half points — after halftime, the Devils’ depth proved why they are a favorite to go deep in the tournament.
Walker and Whitaker were nearly unstoppable in the final quarter, answering every Trojan basket and keeping Statesboro lead at eight points or more for the final 5:14 of play.
“We like having Alicia and Sierra have big games,” Seier said. “But that doesn’t always happen. Tonight, we showed that we can be a good team and play well when other girls have to step up. That’s what’s going to help us in tough playoff games.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.