GUYTON — Statesboro dug out of an early hole and hung on late to earn a win over Liberty County Thursday afternoon in the second round of the Region 2-AAAA tournament.
A 10-2 run to close the first half gave Statesboro a cushion and the Devils beat back a second half rally that saw the Panthers close to within a possession of the lead to get the win.
Clinging to a 54-51 lead with 10 seconds to play, Michael Summers (14 points) saved the day.
The junior guard muscled away a potential steal on an inbounds pass and used his agility to stay on his feet to draw the foul. A free throw with 5.4 seconds to go iced the game for SHS and made Shakur Cook’s buzzer-beating 3 a moot point.
As one of the final four teams remaining in the region tournament, the Devils secured a spot in the GHSA state playoffs.
"It’s always a relief and a good feeling to know you’re going to the state playoffs," said SHS coach Lee Hill. "We were fortunate to get there. Liberty County is a very good team. A lot better than their seed in the tournament would make you think."
The Panthers scored the first 12 points of the game, but the Blue Devils came storming back.
"It was good to see everyone stay calm," said Hill. "Nobody panicked. We just executed a little better and got things turned around."
The Devils were able to cut their deficit to 15-8 after the first quarter and a putback by Zaquavian Smith (14 points) midway through the second quarter gave SHS the lead for good.
Liberty County closed to within 31-30 midway through the third quarter, but Jaqawn Raymond — who led the Devils with 17 points — scored six points in two minutes to rebuild the lead.
Senior Trevor Garvin connected on a free throw to put the Devils up 43-34 after the third quarter and sank a layup with 6:40 to play in the game to push the SHS lead to double digits for the first time.
It looked like the Devils were rolling, but soon after Garvin’s bucket, Raymond fouled out of the game.
The Statesboro offense started to stall, but the defense made up for it, forcing a turnover or a missed shot on five straight Liberty possessions to grind down the clock.
The Panthers were able to get to the line multiple times to score without losing time off the clock and a pair of short jumpers by Sayvon Wilson (15 points) kept things interesting, but the Devils found just enough offense to keep the lead until Summers closed the door on Liberty’s season in the closing seconds.
"Closing out games is tough against good teams," said Hill. "Liberty went hard to the basket and got to the line. They made it close, but we kept our composure. This was a real good test; a good learning experience."
Statesboro will get another big test tonight as the Devils return to Guyton to take on top seeded and state ranked Brunswick in the tournament semifinals.
Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.