It was another close game for the Lakeside Panthers Tuesday, and another heartbreaking defeat.
Trailing by one with 36 seconds to play, the Panthers (11-14, 2-8) had to take two timeouts and ultimately could not get a final shot off.
“We just came up short,” said dejected Panthers forward Chris Hall. “We were under pressure and we didn’t get it.”
It was the seventh game the Panthers have lost by five points or less, and they have lost two of their past three games by a free throw.
The game was crucial for Statesboro (13-12, 7-3), which entered tied for second with Evans in the Region 2-AAAA. Evans faced South Effingham Friday, and a win would put tiebreakers into effect to determine the region’s No. 2 seed.
The Panthers were aggressive in the first half and got to the free-throw line frequently, hitting 13 of 17 attempts while building a 31-25 halftime lead.
Hall, who led all scorers with 18 points, was especially effective, getting into passing lanes and turning steals into layups.
The third period was a different story as the Blue Devils started to get position inside and got two traditional 3-point plays, with the opportunity for a third. They outscored the Panthers 18-11 and entered the final stanza with a 43-42 lead.
“We attacked well in the first half. In the third, I wasn’t sure it was the same team I was watching,” said Panthers head coach John Kucela.
Lakeside took a 52-51 lead on a Chris Watson layup with 1:06 to go. Johnathan Taylor corralled an offensive rebound on the Blue Devils’ ensuing possession, was fouled and calmly sank both free throws with 36 seconds remaining.
“A game like that could go either way,” Kucela said. “We could have done other things. It shouldn’t have come down to that.”
The Lady Panthers were up against it from the start, facing the top team in the region, with Statesboro entering with a 12-game winning streak.
The Lady Blue Devils (24-1, 10-0) took control early with their size and speed, cruising to the 55-31 win.
“At the beginning of the season, if you said we could win 10 games, I would have laughed,” said Lady Panthers head coach Jody Hilley, referring to his team’s inexperience. “It’s a tribute to our kids. They’ve worked hard. Tonight we were out-athleted.”
Senior forward Alisia Jenkins was tough to contain offensively, scoring a team-high 14 points for the Lady Blue Devils.
Rosalyan Talley led the Lady Panthers (9-14, 3-7) with a game-high 15 points.
Lakeside will head to the Region 2-AAAA Tournament Tuesday at Richmond Hill, most likely as the No. 5 seed.