Just three days after surviving a near upset at South Effingham, things looked tense once more for the Statesboro girls early Saturday night.
Facing Evans, the Lady Blue Devils trailed by seven points — their biggest deficit of the season – in the first quarter, but regrouped and pulled away with a 63-32 victory.
Statesboro (21-1, 7-0 Region 2-AAAA) was happy to tack on another win, but the slow start was definitely cause for some concern.
“I was thinking ‘Oh, no. Not again’,” SHS coach Jeff Seier said. “You never want to start off a game poorly. We warned our girls that it would be another battle if we played flat. Thankfully, they got it turned around.”
Things weren’t very pretty at the start. Statesboro turned the ball over on easy passes and seemed to lack the fire on the defensive side of the ball that normally makes them such a force.
With the score close early on, Evans’ Jasmine Stone (12 points) benefitted on back-to-back Knights steals, converting both for easy layups, then hit a deep 3 to give Evans a 14-7 lead — its biggest of the game.
A big contributor to the early Knights run was the frontcourt play — or lack thereof — from Statesboro. Armed with tall and athletic forwards Jenkins, Sierra Kirkland and Shanikwa Buie, the Devils usually dictate the pace down low, but struggled early, losing out on some contested rebounds and combining for just five first-half points.
“People are going to try to take our strengths away as we get deeper into the season,” Seier said. “We’ve got to be prepared for that and know how to adjust and respond.”
The Devils showed their championship form as they quickly regained their composure. Statesboro ripped off an 18-4 second quarter to retake the lead and stayed hot in the second half to put the game away.
With nobody able to get too hot, it took a total team effort for the Devils. Alisia Jenkins, Kiyera Whitaker and Aneisha Drummer tied for the team lead with 10 points each while Sierra Kirkland contributed nine and Shanice Walker chipped in eight more.
Trailing 14-9 after the firs quarter, Statesboro jumped back into the lead with free throws by Walker, a couple of mid-range jumpers from Whitaker, and an easy transition layup from Walker.
Defensively, the Devils clamped down, forcing six turnovers in the quarter and converting many of them into easy buckets.
“We didn’t play defense with enough intensity early on,” Seier said. “When you let people stare at the rim and shoot flat-footed, they’re going to hurt you. We went out and challenged more shots and that made a difference.”
After surging to a 27-18 lead at the break, Statesboro left no doubt in the second half. Evans hit a 3 to begin the third quarter scoring, but the Devils went on a 16-2 run from there to take the fight out of the Knights.
Up by over 20 points in the final quarter, the Devils were able to empty their bench to run out the clock and rack up another sub-region win.
Statesboro takes the weekend off before resuming action Tuesday against Effingham County at home. With a win, the Devils can clinch the top spot out of their sub-region.
Statesboro 66, Evans 59
The Statesboro boys made it a clean sweep of Evans as they chalked up a 66-59 victory in Friday’s nightcap.
With the win, the Blue Devils pulled to .500 on the season at 11-11 and improve to 5-2 in Region 2-AAAA competition.
Paired up against a Knights squad that took away a 57-36 win in the teams’ first meeting in Augusta, Statesboro made sure to defend its home court.
Leading the way for the Devils was Jonathan Taylor, who was playing in just his fifth game back after sitting out most of the first half of the season with an injury. Mired in a tight battle with Evans for three quarters, Taylor scored nine of his team-high 17 points in the final period to help Statesboro pull away.
Statesboro led, 29-27, at halftime, but Evans came out of the locker room firing. The Knights hit seven of their first eight field goal attempts in the second half and built a 41-36 lead.
But it was Statesboro that had the last laugh. After battling back to even, a pair of free throws by Tavist Wilson gave the Devils a 44-42 lead that they never relinquished heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Statesboro now finds itself on a three-game region winning streak and will try to add to it — and ensure a winning record in region play — Tuesday as the Devils host sub-region leader Effingham County.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.