Statesboro has high hopes for this season, but finds itself dealing with an early hiccup.
The Blue Devils ran off four consecutive wins to begin the season before falling at Swainsboro over the weekend. Statesboro stumbled again Tuesday night as Effingham County avenged an earlier loss to Statesboro and claimed a 76-68 victory at the Devil’s Den.
Missouri commit JaKeenan Gant scored 29 points in the first matchup with Statesboro and outdid himself Tuesday, scoring 39 — including 19 in the fourth quarter alone.
Zaquavian Smith poured in 25 for the Devils (4-2), but couldn’t keep pace with Gant and the Rebels.
“Effingham is a really tough team,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “We felt fortunate to beat them at their place last week, but they came right back and got us. It’s very tough to beat a team as good as they are twice in a season.”
The Rebels (3-2) led for much of the game and stretched their advantage to double-digits on multiple occasions, but Statesboro showed the fire that got it within a game of the state championship last season.
Hunter Morris connected on a fastbreak layup for the Rebels to put them up 55-42 late in the third quarter. Just as Effingham looked to have a firm grasp on the game, Statesboro came roaring back.
Alex Simmons, O’Aaron Ware and Akeem Oglesby all connected on 3’s in the final 1:30 of the period and Ware added a three-point play to close SHS within 55-54 as the fourth quarter began.
That’s when Gant showed why he’s the top-rated player in all of Georgia.
Gant began the fourth quarter scoring with a one-handed put back slam and added four free throws while Smith hit a pair of 3’s for the Devils. Gant’s fadeaway jumper regained the lead for Effingham and his 3 from the top of the key gave the Rebels the lead for good at the 3:53 mark.
“There’s not a lot you can do when a player as good as Gant has a big night,” Hill said. “Every time we made a few shots, he had the answer. They just kept feeding him and he kept making them.”
Statesboro missed four consecutive 3-point attempts in the final two minutes, allowing Effingham to pull away.
The loss stings for the Devils, but they remember suffering a few early setbacks last season before catching fire.
“It keeps us motivated,” Hill said. “We play tough teams all season long. We know that’s the level we need to play at all the time.”
SHS ladies fall
The Statesboro girls have looked much improved early on this season, but still have no answer for Effingham County as they have dropped both meetings with the Lady Rebels.
Kyesha Lewis scored the final 11 points of the first half for Effingham and led all scorers with 27 points as the Rebels (5-0) handed the Lady Blue Devils (4-2) a 58-42 loss.
Statesboro trailed just 11-8 after the opening quarter, but went 3-of-8 from the foul line in the second period as Effingham started to roll.
Staysa Everett (seven points) points notched a steal and went the distance for an easy layup to get the Devils within 16-14 midway through the second quarter, but a floater from MaKayla Robinson (17 points) started a 13-1 Rebel run that lasted the rest of the first half.
The Rebels scored two quick buckets to begin the second half before a three-point play by Shanikwa Buie (14 points) ended Statesboro’s 7:32 field goal drought.
“We’re just making the same old mistakes on defense,” Seier said. “When (Effingham) got going, we just couldn’t stop them. We need to grow up in a hurry.”
Statesboro’s offense slowly got going in the third quarter, but a 3 from Brooke Fowler stretched the Effingham lead to 46-24 after three periods and the Rebels easily ran out the final eight minutes of play.
Both Statesboro squads will be back in action Saturday night as the Devils travel to Hinesville for a doubleheader against Bradwell Institute.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.