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Statesboro takes region title
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Statesboro High Zaquavian Smith celebrates after knocking down a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to help hold off Butler during Friday's Region 3-AAAA Championship. Smith scored 40 points.

   STATESBORO — For three consecutive nights, the Statesboro Blue Devils found themselves in nip-and-tuck battles in the Region 3-AAAA tournament.
    The Devils’ nerves may be shot, but they now have a region championship for all their trouble.
    Statesboro led the entire way — though never by much — Friday night as it defeated Butler by a score of 82-77 to claim its first region title since the 2008-09 season.
    “It’s just incredible to be able to win a region championship on your home floor in frond of your home crowd,” SHS coach Lee Hill said. “This is what we’ve been working hard every day for. I’m proud of our guys and I’m happy to see them get to celebrate.”
    Both teams executed well throughout the night, but each squad had a standout that stole the show.
    Deontaye Coleman racked up 46 points — including six from behind the arc — single-handedly carrying the Bulldogs (18-9) within reach of the title. Statesboro’s Zaquavian Smith was equally impressive, scoring 40 points, drilling nine 3's, and knocking down a late pair of free throws to put the game out of reach.
    “(Coleman) is a heck of a player,” Hill said. “We knew coming in that he could shoot it. We did our best to defend him, but he kept finding ways to score. But I wouldn’t trade anyone for Zaquavian. What a great night for him.”
    It was a great night for just about anyone who decided to let it fly from long range. The teams combined for an almost absurd 23 3-pointers in the game, 12 of them
coming in the second quarter alone.
    Statesboro (26-3) started off the game on a 10-4 run, but every time the Devils threatened to pull away, a big shot from Coleman or Marquis Leverett (13 points) brought the Bulldogs back into contention.
    A three-point play by Coleman got Butler within 57-53 with just over three seconds to play in the third quarter, but Smith raced through the Bulldogs’ press and connected on a 40-foot bomb at the buzzer.
    “We played a great game tonight and we had to,” Hill said. “Butler shot the ball great. Every time I thought we had a good lead, they would hit a few more 3’s. To be able to stay in front all night shows how well we were playing as a team all night.”
    The Bulldogs converted on six consecutive free throws early in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 63-61, but a potential game-tying layup from Sandrez Evans rattled out and the momentum was broken.
    Statesboro inched a bit farther ahead and Jonathan Taylor converted on a huge three-point play with 2:44 to go to make it a 75-68 Blue Devil lead.
    The Devils stayed just clear of Butler and looked to have a comfortable lead to ride home in the final minute, but Coleman tracked down a loose ball, spun, and hit an off-balance 3 to make it 80-77 with 18.9 seconds to go.
    Smith finally put the nail in Butler’s coffin, hitting a pair of free throws after being fouled on the ensuing inbound.
    Coleman raced back down the court, but lost possession while attempting another deep 3. Statesboro pounced on it and Bulldog defenders stood still, allowing the final seconds to tick off the clock.
    With the win, Statesboro claims a No. 1 seed in the Class AAAA state tournament. The Blue Devils will host the No. 4 seed out of Region 2-AAAA next week and will get another home game if they win. Butler gets a No. 2 seed and will host the No. 3 seed out of Region 2-AAAA.

  Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.