Albany State’s Jillian Anderson is fouled as she goes up for a shot during Saturday’s homecoming game against Fort Valley State. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Keidra Green wasn’t one of the Lady Rams dancing, but she still knew what Saturday’s 60-51 homecoming win against Fort Valley State meant.
“It was time to party,” she said. “Time to party.”
That’s how the Lady Rams felt after a stunning last-minute comeback that clinched an SIAC East Division regular-season title in front of nearly 5,000 fans. They outscored Fort Valley 11-1 in the final 53 seconds to come from behind and then danced their way to the locker room as they greeted the Albany State men on their way to the court.
It felt like a party with the standing-room-only crowd and the dramatic entrance from the Marching Rams Show Band in the middle of the game — all of which left the Lady Rams distracted and nearly allowed the Lady Wildcats to pull off the upset.
But then Green and the Lady Rams caught fire.
With 53 seconds left in the game and Albany State trailing 50-49, Green sank a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Lady Rams a lead they would never give back.
Green, who scored a game-high 22 points, capped the comeback with a steal and a layup with three seconds left, clinching a No. 1 seed in next month’s SIAC tournament for the Lady Rams (17-5, 12-3). Green’s corner 3 that started the rally rattled around the rim before dropping through the net, and she admitted it didn’t exactly feel like a sure thing when it left her hands.
“To be honest, I was not expecting the ball that quick,” said Green, the former Crisp County star. “I thought I was going to miss it, but then it went in.”
It was the second go-ahead 3-pointer in the closing minutes in as many games for Green, who led the Lady Rams past Clark Atlanta on Monday with some late-game dramatics. On Saturday, she scored 14 of her points after halftime and finished the game 8-of-17 from the field and 3-of-9 from long range.
“Green shot the ball about as well as I could have expected her to under the circumstances,” ASU coach Robert Skinner said. “Especially down the stretch she made some big shots.”
It was the first game for the Lady Rams since they debuted in the season’s first Division II South Regional poll in the No. 5 spot — a ranking that’s never been accomplished in Skinner’s 23 years leading the ASU basketball program.
“I have been coaching 34 years now, 23 of them here at Albany State, and this is the first time any of my teams have been ranked in the region,” said Skinner, who also coaches volleyball and softball. “This says that (this team) accomplished something that no other team I have coached at Albany State has accomplished.”
Kourtney Alexander, one of ASU’s five seniors, called it an honor to be part of history.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for all of us,” said Alexander, who finished with 13 points. “But at the end of the day (Skinner) says it’s nothing but a ranking. You can’t just go out there assuming that your ranking means something. We need to go out there and play hard every night.”
The Lady Rams, who have won 11 of their last 13 games, came out slow on Saturday as the homecoming crowd flooded into the bleachers, but midway through the first half ASU went on an 8-1 scoring run and pulled ahead 20-11 with 7:11 remaining until halftime.
But then ASU’s band made its entrance, marching from one end of the gym to the other, pausing the game for several minutes as the band members methodically played their way into the bleachers.
For the Lady Rams, it was a momentum killer.
“The band got more attention than the team did, and that changed how we played from then on,” said Skinner, whose team was called for a delay of game for the interruption. “I think we played too casual all game long. We were thinking about homecoming. We were thinking about activities for the evening and weren’t focusing on the game.”
Fort Valley State closed the half on a 7-2 run and then eventually took the lead in the second half. The Lady Wildcats pulled ahead by as many as four minutes with 5:54 left and held on to the lead for the next few minutes before Green and the Lady Rams found their last-minute push.
Skinner said he could see the determination in his players’ eyes in the final moments.
“I saw their desire to win,” he said. “I could see it in their eyes that they didn’t want to lose. It was homecoming. They beat Fort Valley before very convincingly. They just felt like it was time to start playing.”
ASU wraps up conference play Monday at Clark Atlanta before closing the regular season Thursday at home against Tuskegee in a non-conference game. The SIAC tournament will be played March 3-8 in Birmingham, Ala.