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Albany State men, women win conference tourney openers

Albany State junior Kourtney Alexander, right, scored 16 points in Monday’s 73-51 win against Miles College. (Dimitrieus Hopkins/Special to The Herald)

Albany State junior Kourtney Alexander, right, scored 16 points in Monday’s 73-51 win against Miles College. (Dimitrieus Hopkins/Special to The Herald)

ASU’s Cooper earns Defensive Player of the Year award; Thomas, Harris named All-Conference

ATLANTA — Albany State forward and former Mitchell County star Kedeemya Cooper was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the conference on Monday.

Cooper, a 5-foot-8 sophomore, averaged 9.9 points and a team-high nine rebounds per game.

Along with former Bainbridge star April Thomas, Cooper was also named a member of the All-Conference Team.

Thomas entered Monday’s tournament game averaging 20.1 points per game and was second in the conference in 3-point shooting (36.9 percent) and third in both field goal (40.7) and free throw percentage (79.0).

Jaren Harris was the lone representative for the Golden Rams on the men’s All-Conference team. The senior guard averages a team-high 14.2 points per game.

ATLANTA — It had been a dark last few weeks for the Albany State women’s basketball team.

The Lady Rams finally found some sunshine on Monday.

No. 5 seed ASU stormed past No. 4 Miles, 73-51, in the opening game of the conference tournament, leading by as many as 30 points in the second half to slam the door shut on a five-game losing streak.

“It gave me a ray of hope,” ASU coach Robert Skinner said about the victory, which was the team’s first since Feb. 2. “I’m praying our players are thinking like that also.”

Former Bainbridge star April Thomas led the way with 18 points, but ASU’s leading scorer got plenty of help from her teammates.

Mitchell County grad Kedeemya Cooper had a huge game inside, finishing with 12 points and 17 rebounds; Kourtney Alexander added 16 points; and point guard Mecca Frost dished out 12 assists while committing only one turnover.

“If we can get contribution like that every night, then we can still be playing (in the championship) Saturday,” Skinner said.

The Lady Rams (9-15) will now play at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the quarterfinals against a Benedict team that swept ASU in the regular season.

ASU shot 43.9 percent from the floor on Monday and held Miles College, which was led by Shierkerrieal Nelson’s 16 points, to 26.8 percent shooting.

“I figured that if we shot the ball well then we would win this game,” Skinner said. “In tournament games you really have to shoot well. Our defense was better than anything else tonight.”

ASU, which hasn’t won a conference title in 15 years, is looking for its first back-to-back wins since late January.

“This took a lot of pressure off,” Skinner said. “To have a team down 30 points in a tournament game, hopefully it got us thinking that maybe we aren’t as bad as our record says we are.”

ASU MEN 67, MILES 63: Senior Jaren Harris scored 32 points to lead the Rams past Miles in Monday’s conference tournament opener.

Eric Martin added 12 points for ASU, which has now won two games in a row since snapping a five-game losing streak.

Rams coach Chris Cameron said it was his team’s mental toughness that pushed them to a win in a game where they led by as many as 12 before giving up the lead late in the second half.

“We had excellent concentration (Monday), were accountable and had our mental toughness late in the game,” Cameron said. “It’s kind of like a monkey off our back, but we have to relax and get ready for Wednesday.”

ASU plays again Wednesday in the quarterfinals against Benedict.