ASU men, women win home finale

ALBANY — Albany State coach Chris Cameron dug deep into his past to give the Rams motivation during Saturday’s Senior Night game against Claflin.

It worked.

Albany State overcame a 15-point deficit in the first half and held on for a 65-63 victory to improve to 12-13 overall and 11-12 in the conference.

“I had so much anxiety and adrenaline in my Senior Night game,” said Cameron, who lettered all four years at Tulane before playing professional basketball overseas. “I let that get the best of me in that game. I was playing with a lot of emotion. Sometimes you can play too fast or too quick and make a lot of mistakes, so that’s what I told the guys during our (pregame) shootaround.”

ASU came out with that anxiety and adrenaline Saturday night and fell behind 31-16 after Claflin (7-16, 7-15) went on a 23-4 run midway through the first half. But it didn’t take long for the Rams to remember their coach’s advice.

“We calmed our nerves and played Golden Ram basketball, and we were alright,” said Marcus Benitez, who is one of six seniors on ASU’s roster; the other seniors are Stephen Francis, Demetrius Jones, Michael Tippins, Demarcus Blunt and Brian Thornton. “(Cameron’s pregame talk) helped. Everybody has to go through Senior Night, so it helped us out. We just had to play our game.”

The Rams picked up the tempo on offense and buckled down on defense in the second half to open up the half with a 16-3 run to take a 46-40 lead. Claflin regained a 62-61 lead with 2:00 left, but the Rams outscored the Panthers, 4-1, in the final two minutes to win their second game in a row.

“We had to get this win,” said Rachard Lofton, who led ASU with 15 points. “We have one game left and then we have the tournament, and we need to get the momentum started. I feel the momentum is building, and I feel like we have a better team than our record shows.”

The victory moved ASU up into a tie for eighth place in the conference with only Thursday’s game at Stillman remaining before the conference tournament begins Feb. 28 and lasts through March 3 in Atlanta.

ASU WOMEN 78, CLAFLIN 65: The Lady Rams ended a three-game losing streak thanks to three seniors stepping up on Senior Night.

Symone Wilkerson led the way with 21 points, while Breanna Fields finished with 16 points and seven rebounds and former Randolph-Clay star Precious Peak had five points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

The Lady Rams (9-16, 9-12) outscored Claflin (6-15, 6-14) 44-30 in the second half, leaving coach Robert Skinner more than pleased after the game.

“We haven’t played this well in a long time,” said Skinner, whose Lady Rams had lost six of their last seven games entering Saturday’s contest. “We got out and ran a little bit more, got the early shots and made the baskets that we needed to make. So we were a little bit more successful.”

Bainbridge native April Thomas also added 16 points for the Lady Rams, who finish up their regular season Thursday at Stillman.