Albany State’s Amber McKenzie, a former Darton player, drives into the Kentucky State defense Thursday during the Lady Rams’ SIAC opener. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Tip Holston clutched her ankle as she fell to the floor, shrieking in pain late in the first half of Thursday’s game against Kentucky State.
Albany State’s star post player limped off the court with the aid of her coach and teammate, uncertain if she would be able to step back on the court for the second half — or even longer.
The freshman from Butler didn’t stay down long.
She returned midway through the second half to lead the Lady Rams to a 57-51 victory against the Lady Thorobreds in the SIAC opener for both teams.
Holston, a 6-foot-1 product of Taylor County High School, scored a game-high 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds to help the Lady Rams get a fifth win in their last six games.
“You can’t say enough about her,” ASU coach Robert Skinner said about Holston. “She turned her ankle in the first half and then came back in the second half and still played a good game. Offensively she did a good job, and defensively she held their bigs down.
The victory allowed the Lady Rams (6-2, 1-0) to pick up right where they left off before Christmas vacation when they had won four of five and entered the break with the best non-conference record in the SIAC.
Now they start the conference season on top of the SIAC East standings.
“I feel like we have just as much heart as everybody else in the conference,” Holston said. “We don’t let anybody outwork us and go out there and go after every loose ball. I feel like we have the No. 1 chance to be in the (SIAC) championship.”
The Lady Rams are looking for their first conference title since 1998, and Thursday’s win was a step in that direction — but Skinner admitted his team will have to play better after shooting just 40 percent from the floor and turning the ball over 19 times in one of ASU’s most sluggish outings of the year.
“It was ugly,” Skinner said. “We had just five days of practice (since coming back from Christmas break) and I only practiced them once a day. I didn’t want to wear them out because I didn’t want them to be tired because we had four conference games in eight days. I was thinking not to kill them by running them to death trying to get them back in shape. I was trying to pace them, but it didn’t look like it paid off.”
It was enough to help the Lady Rams survive against a scrappy Kentucky State team that was predicted to finish third in the West Division standings.
ASU jumped out to an 18-8 lead and saw Kentucky State whittle away at the advantage until the Lady Thorobreds eventually tied it at 25-25 with 2:14 left in the first half after Holston left the game with her injury.
Kentucky State took its only lead of the game with 9:33 left when Style Harper knocked down a free throw to put the Lady Thorobreds on top, 44-43.
But then Holston responded with five points in the next three minutes and ASU’s Deborah Hoe knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Lady Rams the lead for good.
Albany State guard and former Crisp County star Keidra Green scored 14 points, Nicole Wilson came off the bench to add nine points, and point guard Mecca Frost finished with eight points and eight assists for the Lady Rams. Lady Rams volleyball star Jillian Anderson also added four points and four blocks off the bench.