Albany State’s Joe Williams splits a pair of Paine defenders for an easy lay-in Monday afternoon. Williams scored 13 points in the Rams’ 78-68 victory. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Jamorris Gaines believes his Albany State Rams have a shot to climb up the SIAC East Division standings and emerge as one of the top seeds in the conference tournament in early March.
Gaines’ prediction gained some confidence Monday afternoon.
Bouncing back from a tough loss to Benedict on Saturday, the Rams grabbed an early lead against Paine and never let it go for a 78-68 home victory.
It was the kind of gutty performance the Rams need in the final month of the season as they try to make a late push up the conference standings.
“The (East Division) is up for grabs if we just win on out. That’s how we feel,” Gaines said. “We just have to keep working and come out and play hard every night.”
Battling against Paine’s larger frontcourt, Gaines stood his ground Monday and finished with a game-high 24 points. The Sylvester native found his way to the line all afternoon, making 9-of-13 free throws, including four in the final two minutes to ice the victory.
The Rams (8-8, 5-3) sit exactly in the middle of the East Division standings behind Fort Valley, Benedict and Clark, but with half of their final 10 games against the three front-runners, there is plenty of time left for the Rams to make up ground.
“We want to make sure to control what we can control. And we don’t want to lose at home,” ASU coach Chris Cameron said. “There’s plenty of time for us.”
Albany State, which has won four of its last five conference games, was scoreless in the first three minutes and didn’t lead until James Lodman sank a 3-pointer with 15:38 left in the first half, but once the Rams snagged an 8-6 lead they never looked back.
ASU led by four points at halftime and had its lead cut to one in the opening seconds of the second half, but the Rams never fell behind the Lions, who dominated the glass thanks to a trio of 6-foot-8 post players but hit just 1-of-18 3-pointers in their third straight loss.
“We came out and played with more energy, which we didn’t do against Benedict in the first half,” Cameron said. “We made sure that we came out and tried to get the guys to play with more energy. The first half has been our Achilles’ heel when we tend to come out flat.”
Instead, the Rams gritted out a victory on a day when Paine put up 16 more shot attempts and owned a 43-30 advantage on the boards.
“Last game (against Benedict) was a tough loss, so we had no choice but to bounce back,” Gaines said. “We are working hard to get these wins and get us a conference championship.”
All 10 Rams who stepped on the court Monday scored, including Joe Williams (13 points), Douglas Storey (13) and Lodman (10). As a team, ASU was 10-for-21 from 3-point range and 22-for-30 from the free throw line.
ASU’s lead never grew larger than seven points until the final minute of the game, and for much of the second half the Rams were on top by less than five points. However, the Rams knocked down eight free throws in the last two minutes to clinch their third double-digit win against a conference opponent this season.
“You have to step up and make those free throws,” said Gaines, who hit 8-of-11 from the line in the second half. “That’s what they are there for. They are free.”
ASU is still looking to rise above .500 for the first time this season but could reach that mark Saturday with a win at Claflin, which sits just below ASU in the East Division Standings.
Paine (7-9, 3-4) was led by Sean Morgan, who scored 17 points on 8-of-8 from the field. Toby Veal added 15 points for the Lions.