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Effingham County boys draw Evans
Jake Darling
Rebels head coach Jake Darling watches his team take on Brunswick in Statesboro on Thursday. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

By Donald Heath

Special for the Effingham Herald

STATESBORO -- Effingham County’s two nights of struggle at the Region 2-AAAAAA basketball tournament may bring one positive, said Rebels coach Jake Darling.

“Maybe Evans will think it will be an easy game,” Darling said after a 66-56 loss to Brunswick while looking ahead to Wednesday’s first-round Class AAAAAA state tournament matchup with the fourth-ranked Knights.

Perhaps the state of mind of Evans’ players will depend on the scouting tapes. Will the Knights see the Rebels’ two regular-season victories over Brunswick and their sensational display of shooting while building an 18-point lead during a regular-season win against Richmond Hill?

Or will Evans get the tapes of a team falling behind Richmond Hill by 18 during a 58-55 region tournament semifinal loss and the consolation setback the next time out?

“We know what we can be and that’s the team that has to show up on Wednesday,” Darling said.

Darling is almost at a loss of words for his squad’s performance at the region tournament’s Final Four. ECHS (18-7) entered Statesboro High on Feb. 16 with a seven-game winning streak. A week earlier, the Rebels ended the regular season by sinking nine 3-pointers, scoring a season-high 80 points and beating Richmond Hill 80-71 to claim a No. 3 seed in the region tournament. In the first round, the Rebels pounded Bradwell Institute 76-42 -- the 34-point margin of victory tying ECHS’ season’s best.

But in the two games of the region Final Four, the Rebels held just one brief lead -- 32-31 in the third quarter against Brunswick on Thursday -- for a total of 28 seconds.

“It’s not how you want to (go into the state tournament) -- with your worst game,” Darling said. “This week, besides the second half of the Richmond Hill game, we acted uninterested. It’s not how we practice, it’s not how we’ve played, it’s not the standard we set for ourselves.”

As a result of the two losses, ECHS slipped to a No. 4 seed in Region 2 and matched up with Region 3’s champion Evans, a squad that finished 19-2.

The Knights have state tournament experience led by returning starters Rashad King, Josh Mincey and Brasen James, who led a 22-7 team to the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals last season.

Evans added 6-foot-3 guard Devin Story, a deadly outside shooter who was the Independent School Player of the Year at Westminster of Augusta last season.

To make matters a little tougher on the Rebels, the Knights are 12-0 at home this season.

A look at comparison scores could give Evans another reason for overconfidence. The Knights beat Westside by 11. ECHS opened the season with Westside and lost by 20, although Westside eventually had to forfeit the win.

But the Rebels have shown when they’re hot they can play with anyone. Sophomore Keion Wallace was almost unstoppable in the region tournament, scoring 17 points against Richmond Hill and 24 against Brunswick.

Junior point guard Caleb Williams had 19 against Richmond Hill and 13 against Brunswick.

Khiry Wallace had 13 points against Richmond Hill.

Missing in ECHS’ offensive arsenal, however, was accurate 3-point shooting. The Rebels made only two threes against Richmond Hill and one against Brunswick.

“We didn’t play well this week. You can call it youth; you can call it inexperience; you can call it pressur. Maybe it was a combination of all of them, but now we’ll have a chance to wipe the slate clean,” Darling said. “Everyone is 0-0 right now.”