The Statesboro Blue Devils entered the region semifinals without a lot of postseason experience on the team. Tuesday the Blue Devils experience was cut even more with the loss of three key contributors including 6-5 center Leslie Black. The Blue Devils started off slow, but got things going in the third quarter sparked by 16 points from Albert Mikell as they held off Brunswick 59-53 to advance to the region title game Thursday.
“It’s a learning experience for these guys, and myself as well,” said first year head coach Keith LeGree. “We need to remember what got us here. Playing defense and getting into transition. I don’t think we did a good job of that in the first half but did a lot better job in the second half.”
The No. 5 seeded Pirates had upset on their minds as they opened up an 11-4 lead. Statesboro came back behind six straight points from Willie Ballard (12 points) and took their first lead of the game at 16-15. The Pirates fought back and would lead 21-20 at the half.
“We tightened up in the first half,” said LeGree. “But I’m proud of the way we came out with intensity on both ends in the second half and played the way we have most of the year.”
The Blue Devils roared back in the third quarter behind Mikell who scored 16 of his game high 23 points in the third and decisive quarter. The Blue Devils began attacking the rim and Mikell started things off with two straight three-point plays. He’d add a three-point shot later to make it 42-32.
“You need players like Albret to step up in these big games,” said LeGree. “We were playing without three guys who have contributed a lot through the year. We don’t have the depth we had, and guys have to step up and thankfully some of them did tonight when we needed it.”
Free throw issues allowed the Pirates back into the game as Statesboro was just 18-35 from the line, but the Blue Devils got a double-double from Tim Taylor with 10 points and 17 rebounds to help secure the victory and send them into the championship game on Thursday.
“We have to take this as a learning experience and play more consistent from start to finish,” said LeGree. “We need our seniors and upper classmen to step forward and lead us as we continue.”
Statesboro improves to 19-2 overall and will next battle Richmond Hill in the region championship game Thursday at 7:30. The Blue Devils and Wildcats split during the regular season with the Pirates winning 67-57 in Richmond Hill and the Blue Devils taking a 54-49 victory Jan. 29.
“It’s a battle we are looking forward to,” said LeGree. “Winning a region championship isn’t supposed to be easy. You want to play the best, they have all their players back, we are missing a few but we are looking forward to the challenge Thursday night.”
Statesboro and Richmond Hill will square off Thursday at 7:30. The Statesboro girl’s play Brunswick in the region championship game Wednesday at 7:30.