ASU men’s hoops earns first conference victory; Lady Rams roll

Justin Udi's game-winner gave ASU's first conference win of the season Thursday.

Justin Udi's game-winner gave ASU's first conference win of the season Thursday.

ALBANY — Justin Udi didn’t just want a win Thursday night.

He was desperate for one.

Desperate for something to celebrate, for a game to rally around and a night that might help turn around a dismal season at Albany State.

He wasn’t going to settle for anything less.

Udi’s steal and layup with 12 seconds left helped the Rams edge unassuming Lane College, 70-67, to cap a second half in which ASU trailed by as many as 12 points but ended the game on a 32-17 run to snap a six-game losing streak and get its first conference win of the season.

“We knew we needed this win,” said Udi, who scored eight of his nine points in the second half. “We knew we had to go hard, get stops on defense and capitalize on offense.”

With the win, ASU (2-110, 1-5) avoided falling into sole last place in the conference, which is now held by Lane, which fell to 1-10 overall and 0-7 in the conference.

Thursday’s loss by Lane was its 10th in a row.

"Right now, we just need to win," ASU coach Chris Cameron said. "We have been playing well enough to win some games, but we would make some mistakes down the stretch and lose them. So just to have a win and the taste of a W is going to be water for the guys."

Entering Thursday night's game, the Rams were nearly dying of thirst.

"This win is about more than (Thursday) night," said senior Justin Wilcox, who led the team with 13 points. "It's a motivator. We had to win. The problem we had all season was getting down. Our team would just give up. All year we have been giving up, but us fighting (Thursday) night proved a point. Everybody got motivated and did what we had to win."

After going into halftime tied, the Rams fell behind early in the second half and trailed until Albany native Andrew Covin nailed a 3-pointer with 2:52 left.

ASU never gave up its lead after that.

Former Worth County star Jerome Hamilton, Udi and Covin all scored in the final two minutes to help the Rams hold onto the lead, but no play was bigger than Udi's backcourt steal and layup that turned it into a two-possession game.

"I knew we had to win," Udi said. "I knew I had to give it my all. The ball was in my face, so why not get it and lay it up. Everybody was down, and we just had to win."

Lane's Ashton Patton had an open 3-pointer at the top of the key at the buzzer to send the game into overtime, but it hit the backboard and then the side of the rim, putting ASU into the win column for the first time since a Dec. 7 victory against Carver College.

"They came out like they wanted it, and that's the difference," Cameron said about his players. "We made plays down the stretch to win. A lot of times this season we had the same scenario and we just needed that one play, but we didn't make that play. I was glad to see them play with that passion and that poise. That's what we needed. We needed more leadership and guys stepping up to make plays. And that's what they did."

Covin and Hamilton added 10 points for the Rams, while Jaren Harris and Bainbirdge native James Lodman each scored seven and Antione Brown and Aaron Hughes each scored six.

Sha'Mar Nolen scored a game-high 14 to lead Lane College.

Hamilton hit the first three field goals of the game — including a two-handed slam on the opening possession — to help the Rams jump out to an early lead, which they held for the first 14 minutes.

The teams traded the lead several times in the closing minutes of the half and went into the locker room knotted up at 28-28, but the Dragons opened the second half on a 22-10 run for their biggest advantage of the game.

Wilcox stopped the bleeding with one of ASU's 11 3-pointers, which jump-started a Rams offense that scored 29 points in the final 13 minutes.

ASU plays again Saturday at Benedict before returning home Monday to host Paine College.

Bainbridge’s Thomas leads Lady Rams to 3rd straight conference W

ALBANY — Look out, East Division — here come April Thomas and the Lady Rams.

After starting conference play with a 1-2 record, the Albany State women’s basketball team has surged to three straight victories, the latest coming Thursday at home against Lane.

Behind Thomas’ 25 points, the Lady Rams cruised to a 68-57 win to improve to 6-7 overall and 4-2 in the conference.

All of a sudden, the Lady Rams are looking like a contender in the East Division, where they have climbed into a tie for third place with Paine College and are just one game behind leader Fort Valley State.

“I don’t think any team in the conference can beat us if we are out there playing as a team,” said Thomas, a sophomore guard from Bainbridge. “When we are running through our plays and working together, I don’t think anybody can stop us. The only thing that can stop us is ourselves.”

Thursday’s game — which ASU never trailed and led by as many as 18 points late in the second half — was another indicator that the Lady Rams could be a team to beat as they head into the heart of their conference schedule.

“I have started to see them do a better job of protecting the ball, recognize the shooters and get the ball to the shooters a little more (the past three games),” ASU coach Robert Skinner said.

Thomas got her shots Thursday, hitting 9-of-17 from the field and 3-of-8 from 3-point range.

When she is on, the Lady Rams are a tough team to beat.

“If we are going to go anywhere, she is going to be the one that is going to have to be the one to get us there,” Skinner said. “I always say that we have April Thomas, and nobody else does, so that makes all the difference in the world.”

Former Mitchell County star Kedeemya Cooper added 11 points and nine rebounds, while Kourtney Alexander scored seven points for the Lady Rams, who play again Saturday at Benedict College.

Lane College (3-9, 1-6) was led by Crystal Rayford (25 points, 11 rebounds) and Katora Fleming (12 points).