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Last-second block seals victory for ASU men

Albany State senior and Sylvester native Jamorris Gaines rises for a dunk against Clark Atlanta defender Jarrel Joye during Monday night’s SIAC game. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Albany State senior and Sylvester native Jamorris Gaines rises for a dunk against Clark Atlanta defender Jarrel Joye during Monday night’s SIAC game. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — Clark Atlanta’s Earl Lawrence drove to the basket with overtime on his mind, looking to extend Monday’s back-and-forth SIAC game against Albany State.

Jamorris Gaines had other ideas.

Gaines, a former Worth County star, swatted Lawrence’s game-tying attempt with two seconds left and sealed a dramatic 90-88 victory for the Rams after ASU blew a 15-point halftime lead and nearly blew a chance at knocking off one of the East Division’s top teams.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” Gaines said. “I saw it go up, so I had to react. … Everybody was just telling me, ‘Great block. Great defensive play.’ “

It was a victory the Rams desperately needed after losing four of their previous six SIAC games and slipping into fifth in the East Division standings.

But now with two straight wins, the Rams are on their way back up the standings and are just one game out of second place.

There were 10 lead changes in the second half — and lead change No. 10 came with 29 seconds left when James Udi tipped in a missed layup from Gaines to give the Rams a two-point lead. After a timeout, Clark Atlanta held for the final shot, which came when Lawrence dribbled to his right from the top of the key and threw up a high-arcing floater that Gaines sent in the opposite direction.

“That was the biggest play of the game because we said we needed just one stop there,” ASU coach Chris Cameron said. “I think we did a good job on defense because they were calling a lot of the touch fouls and taking us out of our man-to-man defense. That was a good possession with us sliding our feet and being in our spots, and it gave Jamorris a great opportunity to go up and make that play.”

The Rams came out on fire in the first half, pulling ahead 17-2 on a Gaines breakaway dunk five minutes into the game. But the Panthers chipped away at the lead and eventually pulled to within six by halftime. They took the lead for the first time with 15:25 left in the game, but the lead shifted back and forth for the rest of the night.

“This was a great team win,” said ASU coach Chris Cameron, who added that regular starters Joe Williams and Demetri Wheeler didn’t play because of injuries. “We had guys come off the bench and step up and play. They have been playing hard and competing hard in practice. Everybody has the right attitude, and the morale has been up.”

Gaines and James Lodman both scored 21 points to lead the Rams, while Derry Thorpe added 14 points.