Jaren Harris, who came off the bench to score 29 points for Albany State on Tuesday during the Rams’ season opener, skies to the rim for a bucket against Valdosta State’s Drew Maynard. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY — There’s no let up in these Golden Rams.
Down by 10 points with 30 seconds to go in Tuesday night’s season opener against Valdosta State, Albany State fought back and nearly pulled off an improbable comeback.
And while ASU came up just short in the 95-93 loss, Rams coach Chris Cameron saw fight in his team that was nowhere to be found last season.
“This is a very determined group,” Cameron said. “This group won’t give up. That’s one thing we won’t have to worry about.”
Lady Rams hoops come up short in 2011-12 opener
VALDOSTA — After splitting games a season ago with Valdosta State, the Albany State women’s basketball team fell into an early 1-0 hole — both in the rivalry series and in its 2011-12 campaign.
ASU rallied back in the second half but fell, 68-59, on Tuesday, despite 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists from star Symone Wilkerson.
“She’s a tough player,” ASU coach Robert Skinner said. “This may have been a loss, but this was a good game for us. We needed it (to show us where we’re at).”
Freshman April Thomas of Bainb
In what turned out to be a wild finish, the Rams outscored VSU (2-2) 18-10 in the final minute thanks to several forced turnovers and lights-out shooting. With a strong start to the second half, the Blazers built a large lead that reached 18 with four minutes left in the game. However, Rams captain Andrew “Bob” Covin gathered his teammates together and implored them to not give up.
“If I saw anybody hanging their head, I was like, ‘Let’s go, we gotta pick it up,’ ” said Covin, who had 11 points, six rebounds and five assists. “We gotta get it. We are still hungry. We gotta eat.”
Covin, a junior transfer from Waycross Community College and former Dougherty star, was upset about the loss but said it showed the Rams are a heck of a lot better than the team that finished 7-22 last season.
“This says a lot,” Covin said. “It says that we are better than seven wins this year, I can tell you that.”
Outside shooters Justin Wilcox and Jaren Harris came alive in the final minute, combining to score 16 points in the last 60 seconds. It was a Harris 3-pointer that banked in at the buzzer that brought the VSU lead down to two points.
“Our guard play is going to be one of the top in the conference,” said Harris, a junior from Tennille. “We are pretty dangerous.”
Harris came off the bench to lead all scorers with 29 points. He was 10-for-19 from the field and 7-for-14 from 3-point range and also added five assists.
“(Tuesday) in the shoot around, he called himself the ‘Super Sub,’ “ Cameron said about Harris. “He said, ‘I want to own that name, coach.’ “
Harris owned the perimeter all night, especially in the second half when he hit five of his 3-pointers.
But as good as ASU was in the closing minutes, the Rams had trouble with Valdosta State big men Josh Spark (6-foot-9), 6-7 Will Alston and 6-7 Drew Maynard for most of the night. Spark came off the bench to lead the Blazers with 22 points and six rebounds, while the trio of big men combined for 41 points and 20 rebounds.
“We went inside and had a lot of success around the basket,” said Valdosta State coach Mike Heifer, whose Blazers outrebounded the Rams, 41-31. “We knew we had to start throwing it to our bigs.”
Heifer also knew he was going to have his hands full with an Albany State team full of guards and wing players who are in scoring range almost as soon as they step on the court. Five different Rams hit 3-pointers, and the team was 15-for-36 beyond the arc.
The Rams started the game cold from the floor and trailed by double digits for most of the contest.
“The only thing I can say I’m not pleased about is that we didn’t come out with that intensity the entire game,” Cameron said. “How we played at the end is how we should be playing man-to-man defense. And we didn’t start out like that.”
Also scoring in double figures for the Rams were Wilcox with 20 points and former Albany Tech star Demarcus Blunt with 13 points. The Rams play again next Thursday on the road against LeMoyne-Owen College.
“The next opponent (better watch out). The bitter taste is in our mouth. We are that close,” said Covin as he held out his two fingers an inch apart.
“That close to the team we want to be.”
GSW WOMEN OFF TO FIRST 5-0 START in D-II ERA:
AMERICUS -- With the Georgia Southwestern women's basketball team already off to a Division II era best 4-0 start, the Lady 'Canes were looking to improve on their history Tuesday night. Their 94-48 victory against the Lady Crusaders of Tennessee Temple continued their historical start.
For the second time in three games, junior Jessica Jones led the Lady Hurricanes offense with a stat sheet-stuffing evening of 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists. She and senior Jessica Bivins (15 points) led the Blue & Gold who shot 40.7 percent from the field and converted 21 of their 30 foul shots. GSW dominated Tennessee Temple with 25 offensive rebounds, forced 30 TTU turnovers and out-rebounded by 23 rebounds total.
The Lady Crusaders would hang with the Lady 'Canes for the game's initial two minutes before GSW put together a 20-8 run over the next ten minutes to put the game out of reach. The run was aided by Georgia Southwestern's 14-16 free throw shooting in the first half. At halftime, the Hurricanes led comfortably 48-24.
The game was never in reach in the second half as the Lady 'Canes cruised through the final 20 minutes. By night's end GSW held TTU to 30 percent shooting from the field, while they recorded twelve assists on 16 made baskets.
It was a balanced attack for the Blue & Gold, which featured five double-digit scorers. In addition to Jones (21 points) and Bivins (15 points), Tania Walters (13 points), Briana Walker (11 points) and Terra Branch (10 points) all contributed to the offensive assault for GSW. While Walker led the bench in scoring, senior forward Samantha Smith grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds in her 13 minutes of play coming off the bench.
Coach Kelly Britsky and company will look to continue to add to their record-breaking opening season run over the holiday break at the Peach Belt–SIAC Tournament on the campus of Columbus State University. Their run will begin with a game against local rival Albany State on Saturday at 3:00 pm.