Fort Valley – The opening tip of Saturday’s AAAA semifinal between No. 3 Columbia and No. 6 Statesboro was a highlight for Statesboro’s Zaquavian Smith, who grabbed opening tip and dunked to immediately put the Blue Devils ahead.
The rest of the night was Tahj Shamsid-Deen’s show.
The senior guard continually did whatever he wanted in Columbia’s 69-42 win, which kept the Eagles in position to win their fourth straight state title and sixth in eight years.
“Tahj has been a great leader for us. We definitely play off of him. That’s no secret,” said Columbia coach Kerry Sandifer, who received a warm embrace from former his predecessor, Dr. Phillip McCrary, who left after last year to become the DeKalb County Athletics Director.
Shamsid-Deen scored 32 points, 25 in the first half, and was credited with four assists, four steals and two rebounds.
Smith rolled his left ankle coming down from a jumpshot midway through the second quarter – a play on which he scored the last of his six points. He left the game, and Shamsid-Deen went nuts, scoring 14 points in the last four minutes of the half as Columbia increased its lead from 18-14 to 39-23 by intermission.
“Their team kind of got down once he got hurt,” Shamsid-Deen said. “I mean he’s their best player. They kind of looked lost out on the floor. They were down and we tried to keep them down, tried to kick them while they’re down. We were able to get the lead up to 16 at the half.”
Smith came back out to start the second half, but was hobbled and ineffective.
“That really hurt us,” said Statesboro coach Lee Hill. “We had a little momentum there. He’s not only our leading scorer, but he’s our best defender.”
The Eagles spread the floor in the second half while maintaining a double-digit lead.
Columbia pushed the lead past 20 early in the third quarter. Statesboro responded with a 9-0 run to cut it to 11, but would get no closer.
Shamid-Deen’s last field goal, a layup with 2:45 left, capped a 13-0 run that made it 62-38.
Maurice Rivers scored 15 points and collected a team-high 10 rebounds for Columbia.
O’Aaron Ware led Statesboro with nine points.