There were a few teams that had to drop out of Statesboro High’s Gentlemen’s Classic, but one team the Blue Devils were hoping to face was No. 2 ranked Washington County. The Hawks came into Wednesday's game with Statesboro undefeated and the game didn’t disappoint as it went back and forth before the Blue Devils pulled away with a 57-49 victory.
Statesboro came into the game 9-0 and ranked No. 8 in Class 6-A but were coming off a subpar offensive effort in the opening round of the tournament as they hung on late to beat Groves 43-36. Blue Devil coach Keith LeGree feels these are the kind of teams he wants to play to help get the Blue Devils battle ready.
“The past two nights we have played teams that will tell us what we need to work on and get us ready for our region schedule,” said LeGree. “We need games like this one and last night against Groves in order to make us tougher. I felt like we showed a lot of heart tonight and it helped us beat a good basketball team.”
The Hawks came out in a zone defense which the Blue Devils struggled with in the half court for most of the first half. Statesboro’s defense would keep them in the game and they would go up by as many as eight points as a steal and a dunk by Corey Hill would give the Blue Devils a 19-11 lead.
Washington County would come back to go on an 11-3 run themselves as they broke the Statesboro pressure and made a couple open layups and would eventually cut the lead to 20-18 at the half.
The two teams battled back and forth throughout the third with the Hawks taking their first lead of the game at 38-35 on a three pointer by Trevonte Byrd. Jarquez Garrett answered just before the buzzer with a three of his own and the teams went into the fourth quarter tied at 38-38.
The Hawks opened the fourth quarter on fire with back-to-back three pointers by Byrd to make it 44-38, but rather than panic the Blue Devils methodically scratched their way back.
“I felt like that was the key to this game,” said LeGree. “When they hit those three pointers and went up by six we didn’t panic, and that is what a good team does. Our team did what we had told them to do and just kept fighting back and playing good defense and eventually we were able to take the lead back.
The Blue Devil offense began attacking the Washington County zone and it led to layups by Albert Mikell, Willie Ballard and Kam Mikell. Tim Taylor started making his presence known inside with a couple of key rebounds and putbacks and Statesboro took a 49-46 lead. With less than three minutes to go Raylin Grant extended the lead to 52-46 with a three pointer and the Blue Devils helped ice the game by making a few free throws down the stretch.
“I felt like our players answered the call,” said LeGree. “There have been a few games we could coast through but Groves and Washington County are teams that will make runs in the state tournament. We had different players step up at different times and wins like this are things we can build on.”
A balanced Statesboro scoring attack was led by Albert Mikell with 11 points and Tim Taylor with 10 rebounds and eight points. Byrd led all scorers with 19 points including 15 in the second half.
Statesboro improves to 10-0 on the season and will conclude the Gentlemen’s Classic Thursday with a 7:30 matchup against the Portal Panthers.