Rutland head coach Ron Christian has seen his team fall behind by double digits multiple times this season only to rally for a win.
So when the Hurricanes fell behind by 17 in the third quarter Wednesday against Statesboro, Christian didnt panic. He stayed steady, preached defense and prepared for his bunch to make a run against the Blue Devils in the GHSA Class AAAA quarterfinals.
The Hurricanes made that run starting with a nine-point burst beginning late in the third quarter. They would come all the way back in the fourth quarter, tying the game with 22 seconds left, but Statesboro found enough composure to make a layup just before the buzzer and steal a 60-58 win in front of a sold-out crowd at Rutland. Statesboro will play Columbia in the semifinals, while Rutland (22-6) was denied the first Final Four trip by a Bibb County boys team since 2000.
We got out of character for two quarters and didnt play defense and dug ourselves a hole, Christian said. But our guys are fighters, and they never quit. We just came up one basket short.
The one basket was a point blank layup by Statesboros Zaquavian Smith that left his hand just before the buzzer sounded. Smiths basket, from a pass from Yakeem Coleman, capped a hectic final 20 seconds of the game.
The Hurricanes scored five straight points to pull within one of the Blue Devils with 22 seconds to play. Rutland came up with a steal -- one of three in the final minutes -- seconds later, and Jaylon Tyson went to the line. He made 1-of-2 to tie the game at 58. Statesboro pushed the ball down court, and Smith missed a contested finger roll with about 13 seconds left. Rutland pushed the ball back, and Shakenneth Williams caught a pass just outside the paint. The junior landed and went right back up for a layup, and a Statesboro defender cut underneath and made some contact.
I thought they missed a call, Christian said.
Coleman grabbed the rebound and fired a bounce pass a few steps past halfcourt to Smith, who was cutting to the basket for the game winner.
Statesboro (28-3) appeared to be headed for a comfortable victory with an offensive flurry in the second and third quarters. The Blue Devils scored 10 straight points to pull to a 17-point lead on the strength of reliable mid-range jumpers by Smith and OAaron Ware.
Statesboro shot 18-of-34 in the middle two quarters, while the Hurricanes shot 9-of-31. Statesboro outrebounded Rutland 27-12 in the second and third quarters.
I dont think we were taking bad shots; we just couldnt make anything, Christian said. I was disappointed that we werent playing defense.
Rutland got out to its own quick start, scoring the first five points and leading by seven early in the second quarter before the Hurricanes dropped into an offensive malaise.
Christian said he believes the future is bright for the Hurricanes. Rutland loses three seniors and just one starter, and its two leading scorers both return.
Wed like to take that next step, to be the team in Bibb County to break through, Christian said. Hopefully, the guys will be motivated this summer, and well work hard to get back to this point.