For the third time in as many games, the Statesboro girls came out of the gate sluggish and struggled with a region opponent.
For the third straight time, nothing else mattered once Statesboro caught fire.
Tied at 10 after the first quarter and leading by four points at halftime, the Lady Blue Devils came out of the locker room with a vengeance, stifling the Effingham County offense on the way to a 46-34 victory Tuesday night at the Devil’s Den.
With the win, the Blue Devils (22-1, 8-0 Region 2-AAAA) clinched their sub-region for the third consecutive season. Regardless of how the rest of their regular season schedule plays out, the Devils are guaranteed a bye in the first round of the region tournament in Richmond Hill two weeks from now.
“It’s that time of the year where everyone is grinding it out,” SHS coach Jeff Seier said. “Obviously, getting that top spot in the region tournament will help. It’ll make our path to the state tournament a little easier, but we still have to be ready to play.”
Usually able to overpower teams with its size and athleticism, producing offense proved to be a grind throughout the night for Statesboro. While still able to produce enough points inside to ensure a win, the Devils hit just two shots all night from outside of the paint.
Jumper after jumper either rattled out or fell short for Statesboro, but a 3-pointer from the right corner by Shanikwa Buie (nine points) made the lead a comfortable 43-30 with 3:37 to play.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ebony Hicklen — Effingham’s leading scorer with 10 points — drained a pair of midrange jumpers to cut the lead to 38-30, but the Devils were too strong down the stretch as they pulled away for their 21st straight region win.
“Effingham played real hard and hit a lot of their shots,” Seier said. “They’re a team that’s fighting for the postseason just like us. A big win at the end of region play can really motivate teams. We know that they’re gunning for us, so we’ve got to be ready.”
Early on, the Lady Rebels (11-9, 4-4) matched the Devils blow for blow. Effingham kept Statesboro’s biggest threats in check and Hicklen hit a fade-away just before the first-quarter buzzer to square up the score.
The opening minutes of the second quarter remained tight, but the Devils’ trio of talented forwards — Alisia Jenkins, Sierra Kirkland and Buie — started to make their presence known. Jenkins constantly fought through traffic for hard-earned points, notching six in the second quarter alone and eventually leading all scorers with 12.
Coming out of halftime, the SHS offense slowly pushed forward while the defense clamped down. Effingham managed just two points in the first 10 minutes of second-half action as the Rebels’ comeback hopes vanished.
Effingham Co. 80, Statesboro 34
Another one-loss team kept its hot steak intact in Tuesday night's second matchup, but this one didn’t favor Statesboro.
After defeating the Devils (11-12, 5-3 Region 2-AAAA), 55-41, two weeks ago in Springfield, the Rebels (19-1, 8-0) did it again in Statesboro — this time in much more dominating fashion — cruising to an 80-34 win.
For Effingham, the victory sealed the top spot in its sub-region and kept its record perfect against in-state competition — the Rebels’ only loss came in December against nationally ranked Gonzaga (Wash.).
Effingham took immediate control, scoring the game’s first 10-0 points to quiet the home crowd, but spur on its own sizeable travelling party. With the Devils burned early, Effingham’s Jay Wright proceeded to steal the show. Wright hit his first six shots from the field and finished with a game-high 21 points — 19 coming in the first half.
Statesboro briefly closed within 10 points early in the second quarter, but the Rebels’ size and speed were too much as they again pulled away.
A vicious slam dunk by Jakeenan Grant — one of his two on the night — pushed the lead to 50-26 early in the third quarter and allowed Effingham to coast through the final minutes without much trouble.
Both Statesboro squads return to action Friday night as the Devils play host to Greenbrier. The Lady Devils get things started at 6 p.m. with the boys following at 7:30 p.m.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.