If Statesboro’s game against South Effingham Friday night at the Devils’ Den is any indication of how the rest of the Region 2-AAAA season will play out, Statesboro fans are in for an exciting ride.
The two teams battled back and forth throughout the game, but one final push in the fourth quarter propelled the Blue Devils to a 68-55 win to open up region play.
“This was a very big win for us,” said SHS coach Lee Hill. “It’s always good and it’s always important to get off to a good start in your region games. We came out a little cold tonight and couldn’t hit many shots, but our defense played well until some guys got hot and we were able to beat a good team in a really good game.”
Trailing 46-44 going into the fourth quarter, the Devils had to find another gear to get over the hump. Just over a minute into the period, Zaquavian Smith — who led all scorers with 20 points — hit a jumper to tie it up and the next possession saw Jaquell Harper give the Devils a lead.
Smith connected on a pair of free throws before Yakeem blew the game open with a pair of long 3s. The Mustangs got their offense going halfway through the quarter, but Tavist Wilson registered six of his 17 points in the final minutes to help ice the game away.
For a team that has dropped some heartbreakers already this season, Statesboro was thrilled with its execution in the clutch.
“We have played a tough schedule and we’ve been in some really tough games already,” said Hill. “I think that showed tonight. Our guys have been through this. We knew what we had to do when things got close down the stretch.”
The majority of Friday’s game was just as much of a track meet as it was a basketball game. From the opening tip, both teams went up and down the court at full speed for spans of two to three minutes at a time.
With the deeper bench, South Effingham tried to wear down its opponent by giving minutes to 12 players and frequently putting in five new players in one substitution.
“I was really pleased with the conditioning of our players,” said Hill. “We tried to keep the pace from getting too fast, but South Effingham kept up their press and forced us to run.
“When it got to be late in the game, we still had our legs. Even though they were a little bigger, we were still going up and getting rebounds to help us out.”
The Mustangs fought tooth and nail with the Devils and were a handful offensively with nine different players recording points.
Wes Mullins led South Effingham with 17 points and singlehandedly scored the first seven points of the second half to give the Mustangs the lead until Harper’s go-ahead shot in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils will try to stay unbeaten in region play Tuesday as they travel to Evans.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.