Former Randolph-Clay star Brian Thronron (44) goes up for a bucket during Albany State’s win Tuesday against Lane at home. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY — What a difference a new year makes.
It may only be one game, but Albany State’s men and women started 2012 off right with a sweep of Lane College Tuesday at the HPER Gym in conference play.
The Rams fought off a late Dragons rally to pull away, 71-68, thanks in large part to former Albany Tech star and Cordele native Demarcus Blunt’s 15 points and his quick healing ankle.
Albany State turned a five-point halftime lead into a 55-44 advantage on Marcus Benitez’s 3-pointer with 14:14 left in the game before Blunt, who led the Rams in scoring, came down sideways on his shoe and tweaked his ankle.
With the ASU senior forward on the bench, Lane stormed back to tie the game at 55-55 with 11:25 left after two dunks from Anthony Collier sparked the run.
“We were a little sluggish,” ASU head coach Chris Cameron said. “It took us some time to find our balance, but in the second half we figured out what they were doing and we became more comfortable.”
Blunt came back in after sitting out three minutes to rest the ankle and immediately turned the tide with a tip-in to break the tie and send ASU on a 9-0 run that stood up.
“I came down on the ankle, but it wasn’t bad,” said Blunt, who added five boards, two steals and hit 3-of-7 threes in the win. “The shots were just falling (Tuesday).”
ASU’s big men were able to control the inside in the second half after Lane’s outside shooters went cold. The Dragons were 0-for-12 from behind the arc and missed several key free throws down the stretch to remain winless on the season.
“We were able to pack it in (inside) and let them shoot a little bit,” Cameron said.
Benitez, who hadn’t scored in double-figures all season, poured in seven of his 14 points after Lane tied the game midway through the second half. Justin Wilcox added eight points in the win, and Cameron believes those three will need to get rolling for the Rams (3-4, 2-3 conference) to make some noise in league play.
“We’ve got to get them going,” he said. “We need some momentum.”
Lane College (0-6, 0-4 conference) was led by Rafael Strayhorn’s 17 points and 10 boards. ASU plays host to Kentucky State Thursday before welcoming Fort Valley State to Albany Saturday.
ALABNY STATE WOMEN 82, LANE COLLEGE 59: The Lady Rams’ new year’s resolution was simple.
“We expect to play harder and play smarter,” head coach Robert Skinner said.
His team did just that in Tuesday’s throttling of winless Lane College. ASU senior Symone Wilkerson filled up the box score with a team-high 16 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and five steals, while April Thomas, the freshman sharpshooter from Bainbridge, got hot in the second half after the Lady Rams took a 40-24 lead into halftime.
Skinner didn’t start Wilkerson, hoping to light a fire under his senior leader. It apparently worked.
“I wanted to send a message,” Skinner said. “I thought it might shake her up a little, but it didn’t. She just went out there and played.”
ASU played seven of its eight freshman, led by Thomas, who went 5-for-5 during a four-minute stretch in the second half and finished with 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“I already knew she had a position (when recruiting Thomas),” Skinner said of the talented freshman guard.
ASU also got 13 points from Precious Peak, 12 from Breanna Fields and 11 from Kourtney Alexander. The Lady Rams (2-7, 2-3 conference) take on Kentucky State Thursday at home.