COLUMBUS -- The Cairo Syrupmakers started and ended well Wednesday night in the Class AAAA tournament at the Columbus Civic Center.

Cairo opened their game against the Statesboro Blue Devils with a 20-11 run. It then scored the final 14 points to cruise to a 69-55 victory.

The game was deadlocked at 55 when Cairo's Uriah Herrington hit a jumper and was fouled to give the Syrupmakers a lead they never relinquished.

Cairo overcame a 40-31 deficit in the third quarter to advance to the quarterfinals for the second straight year.

Head coach Isaiah Chance said the turnaround started on the defensive end.

"That's what we live on," Chance said. "We live and die by defense."

The defense started with Herrington, who controlled the paint against the smaller Statesboro front line. The Blue Devils tried to attack the basket, but were constantly turned away by the 6-foot-9 center.

"Every time they went to the basket, he was there to block the shot," Chance said.

If Herrington didn't swat the shot away, he forced the Blue Devils to double pump, causing many missed shots.

Herrington was also big at the offensive end, scoring a team-high 25 points. Several baskets came on thunderous dunks, including one that gave Cairo its first points of the game. A couple of his baskets came off rebounds as Statesboro couldn't contain him on the glass.

Teammate Clifford Hammonds said he told Herrington he could have a big game against the smaller team.

"He responded to what we told him to do," Hammonds said.

Cairo started the game red hot from behind the three-point line. Andrew Johnson drilled a long bomb to give the Syrupmakers its first lead at 5-4. Chris Wright and Hammonds hit back-to-back treys to boost the Syrupmakers lead to 16-9. The surplus ballooned to nine points after Sadarian Williams hit an easy layup off a nice pass from Johnson.

But Cairo quickly cooled in the second period, and the Blue Devils made a run. Ronnell Wooten sank a basket to pull Statesboro within 25-24. After Williams hit another layup, Courtnei Houston hit the only Statesboro three-pointers in the first half to tie the game 27-27 at intermission.

Statesboro's momentum carried over into the third period, hitting its first four shots.

Hammonds led Cairo back with 12 third-quarter points to pull his team within a point of the lead, 50-49, heading into the final eight minutes.

"I knew I had to do something to keep us in it so this wouldn't be our last game," said Hammonds, who finished with 23 points.

Cairo held Statesboro to just five points in the fourth period in improving its record to 19-8.

Cairo returns to the court Saturday to play Troop at 8:30 p.m. in the Columbus Civic Center.

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