In what has been an up and down season for the Statesboro boys, Friday night saw a second straight win.
More importantly for the Blue Devils (9-11, 3-2 Region 2-AAAA), their 50-45 victory over Lakeside Evans marked a second straight region victory.
“This is huge for us,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “There are so many good teams in this region. It’s tough to put together a few wins, but I think we played really well and earned it.”
Making the most of a rare start, Quante Huff proved to be a spark plug for the Devils all night. The senior guard scored a season high 13 points and sparked a key run for Statesboro in the second half.
Clinging to a small lead late in the third quarter, Huff notched a steal and — after a Statesboro miss — got the put-back bucket. The next possession for the Panthers (8-10, 0-4) saw Huff grab another steal and taking it all the way for a layup. Finally, with the third quarter winding down and the Devils gaining momentum, Huff pulled in a loose ball and drilled a 3-pointer to put Statesboro up, 39-29, heading to the final quarter — the largest lead either team held all night.
“I was very happy for Quante,” Hill said. “He didn’t get a chance to play with us last season, but he’s been playing better and better this year. Tonight, he was huge for us. He got a big shot or a big steal every time we needed it.”
Lakeside’s Chris Hall led all scorers with 22 points and kicked it into overdrive in the final period.
Hall nailed a turnaround jumper to begin the fourth quarter, then hit an inside jumper and a pair of driving layups to make it a two possession game with four minutes to go.
Hall pulled the Panthers to 46-43 on a 15-foot jumper with 1:41 to play, but Huff and Yakeem Coleman went 4 for 4 from the free throw line down the stretch to ice the game for the Devils.
Like Huff, Jonathan Taylor had a breakout night for Statesboro. The senior forward has missed the majority of the season due to injury, but — in just his second game back — contributed nine points and 11 rebounds to the winning effort.
“Just looking at tonight, you can see how much it helps to have him back,” Hill said. “We’ve had to piece together our post players this season, but getting (Taylor) back in there is a huge help.”
After notching most of their early wins in high-scoring affairs, Friday’s game marked just the third time this season that the Devils have scored 50 points or less while coming away with a victory.
As the region schedule wears on and every game takes on more importance, Statesboro will take the wins any way they can.
“It’s nice to see us be able to grind out a win,” Hill said. “It shows some mental toughness. Both teams were having some trouble scoring, but we were able to stay calm and take advantage when we had the chance.”
Now in good position to make a run at a top seed in the region tournament, the Devils will try to keep their momentum going as they travel to South Effingham 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Lady Devils 67, Lady Panthers 40
In a game featuring two teams that were unbeaten in Region 2-AAAA competition, it was clear which school was just happy to be having a good season and which one had much bigger things on its mind.
With control of the sub-region at stake, the Statesboro girls looked as cool and poised as ever, steamrolling Lakeside of Evans by a 67-40 margin Friday night at the Devil’s Den.
“We got a good challenge early on,” Statesboro coach Jeff Seier said. “We’ve had that the last couple of games. This time of season, you want to see your team have to prove that it can still play well when things get a little tougher.”
While Friday marked the Devils’ 23rd consecutive region victory, one thing was a bit out of the ordinary. A four-year starter and a University of South Florida signee, senior forward Alisia Jenkins was not featured in the starting lineup.
“Alisia has been sick all week,” Seier said. “She wanted to play, but we tried to make it easier on her. When she’s out of the lineup, we need Sierra (Kirkland) to pick up the slack, and she certainly did that for us tonight.”
Without Jenkins’ services for the first five minutes of play, it was her 6-foot-1 teammate doing all of the damage.
Kirkland scored Statesboro’s first nine points, then teamed up with Jenkins when she entered the game as both totaled 15 points to co-lead all Devil scorers.
Sophomore forward Shanikwa Buie pitched in 12 points to also crack double-digits and all three played prominent roles in the 22-4 Blue Devil run to end the third quarter and put the contest far out of reach.
The Statesboro girls will be back in action tonight as they travel to Brunswick for a 6 p.m. tip-off.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.