Albany State's Joe Williams puts up a shot from the top of the key in the final seconds of Tuesday's game against Valdosta State. With the score tied 77-77, Williams' shot rimmed out to force overtime. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Joe Williams hung in the air as the last seconds ticked off the clock, and then the Albany State senior forward released the would-be game winner late Tuesday against in-state rival Valdosta State.
It rimmed out — and then minutes later Valdosta State walked off the court with a 91-89 win in overtime, edging Albany State in the Rams’ home opener.
But Williams, who helped ASU overcome a 14-point deficit and led the Rams on a second-half comeback to force overtime, was anything but disappointed as he talked to the media after the game.
“That showed a lot of fight in my team,” said Williams, who led the Rams with 25 points. “Most teams would have folded in the end. We kept working and almost pulled it out.”
It was a fight to the finish in the South Georgia rivalry, which is typically one-sided in favor of Valdosta State. On Tuesday, the Rams showed they have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with one of the top Division II programs in the state.
“(Valdosta State) is a good team with good players and a good combination of height and skill players,” ASU coach Chris Cameron said of the Blazers, who are now 5-0. “They are going to be one of the top teams in the (Gulf South Conference), and that says a lot about us. It says a lot that every game we have played, we have played tough.”
The Rams (1-3) are now 1-1 in OT this season after beating Georgia College & State University in a triple-overtime thriller on Nov. 15.
ASU, however, had to fight back in this one to force the extra time. Valdosta State jumped ahead 8-2 early in the first half and stretched the lead to 14 points with 5:49 left in the half and took a 44-33 advantage into the break.
But the Rams opened the second half on a 16-8 run, eventually tied it at 59-59 with 9:31 left on a Darshtyn Baker three-point play and then took the lead on their next possession with a pair of Jamorris Gaines free throws.
It was Gaines and Williams who propelled ASU’s comeback, taking advantage of set isolation plays and combining to score 47 points. Gaines, a former Albany Tech star and Sylvester native, finished with 22 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
“We were working them on a lot of those (isolation plays), and they did their jobs in terms of making plays for us,” Cameron said.
VSU tied the game back up at 61-61 before ASU’s Eric Martin put the Rams back on top with 8:01 left with two of his 10 points — but it was the final lead of the game for Albany State.
A Blake Justice 3-pointer on Valdosta State’s next possession put the Blazers on top and kept them there until Martin banked in a turnaround in the paint with 49 seconds left to tie the game at 77-77.
The Blazers were called for a shot-clock violation on their final possession of regulation, setting up a chance for the Rams to steal the win with a game-winning shot. Williams got free at the top of the key with two seconds left on the clock, but his shot rimmed out to force overtime, where VSU opened up a six-point lead in the final minute and hit enough free throws down the stretch to ice it.
The Rams play again Saturday at home against Florida National University, which competes at the USCAA level.