BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Albany State women’s basketball program has been waiting 16 years to celebrate an conference championship.
After beating Clark Atlanta in Friday’s SIAC semifinal game, 70-58, the Lady Rams might not have to wait much longer.
ASU advanced to the conference title game for the first time since its 1998 championship season with a come-from-behind win against Clark Atlanta, but Lady Rams head coach Robert Skinner had to remind his players after the victory that the real celebration needs to wait at least another day.
“They got a little beside themselves after the game was over and started some premature celebration on the sideline,” Skinner said. “I had to settle them down and remind them that we are just winning another game. The championship is (today). Win that, and you can celebrate all you want.”
It’s been a year to cherish for the Lady Rams (21-5), who have won six straight and are fifth in the NCAA Division II regional rankings. The season got even more special Friday as Albany State stepped into the championship game, clearing a hurdle that has tripped up the Lady Rams for more than a decade.
“We had been to the championship game several times in the ‘90s,” Skinner said, “but we just couldn’t get over the hump. This team has found the character, determination and the will to be able to play and get to the championship game.”
It took all three of those qualities to erase a nine-point deficit in the second half and storm back against a Clark Atlanta team that led the entire first half.
The Lady Rams trailed 42-33 with 15 minutes left in the game and were shooting 30 percent from the floor up to that point, but then Tip Holston and Kourtney Alexander hit back-to-back shots and former Crisp County star Keidra Green sank a 3-pointer to pull the Lady Rams out of their shooting funk.
Skinner said it was Green’s trey that truly changed the game.
“From that point on it seemed like everybody else gained confidence in their shot,” Skinner said. “They weren’t as concerned and were focused and were taking it to the basket a lot more.”
The Lady Rams, who were 13-for-21 from the floor in the final 15 minutes of the game, used a 14-0 run to take the lead from Clark Atlanta and then pulled away down the stretch to advance to today’s SIAC title against either Benedict or Tuskegee.
Green finished the game with 12 points but led the charge after halftime with eight second-half points. ASU point guard Mecca Frost hit just one field goal, but she was 11-for-13 from the free throw line and led the Lady Rams with 13 points, four assists and four rebounds.
Frost played the entire 40 minutes and committed just one turnover and was also given the job of defending Clark Atlanta star Conisha Hicks, who scored a game-high 23 points but needed 15 shots to do so and turned the ball over five times.
“I said after the game that if I was giving the game ball away, I would give it to (Frost),” Skinner said. “She was getting to the basket, and was making smart plays (Friday).”
Also scoring in double figures for Albany State were Alexander (11 points, 7 rebounds) and Holston (10 points, 8 rebounds).
With a win today, the Lady Rams will automatically qualify for the NCAA Division II national tournament. With a loss, ASU could still get in with an at-large bid, but Skinner would rather not risk it.
“Anything can happen if you don’t win,” he said. “My thing is just win and it’s automatic.”
And then the Lady Rams can start dancing.
ASU MEN ELIMINATED: After a late-season winning streak lifted the Albany State men’s basketball team to No. 2 in the SIAC East Division standings, the Rams finally came back down to earth late Thursday with a 73-62 loss to Kentucky State in the conference quarterfinals, ending ASU’ s season.
ASU guard Larry Bullock led the Rams (15-13) with 13 points and former Worth County star Jamorris Gaines added 12 points and eight rebounds, but it wasn’t enough against a Kentucky State team that finished the game on an 8-0 run to put it away.
The Rams began the game on a 9-0 run and held the lead until midway through the first half when Kentucky State went ahead 16-15. The lead bounced back and forth at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, but it was KSU that pulled away late.
GSW MEN INTO SEMIS: The Georgia Southwestern men’s basketball team outscored Lander 11-3 in the final three minutes of Friday’s Peach Belt Conference quarterfinal game to escape with a 74-70 victory and advance to today’s semifinals.
GSW trailed for the entire second half until an Alan Arnett jumper tied it up at 68-68 with 1:45 left. Arnett then hit 1-of-2 free throws with 1:03 left to give the Hurricanes a 69-68 lead, and GSW never trailed again.
Georgia Southwestern’s Jamon Hawkins scored a game-high 26 points, while teammate Daryl Davis added 17 points and eight rebounds. Arnett finished with 16 points, and Johathan Brooks chipped in six points and 10 rebounds.
Dermaine Smith scored 21 points for Lander, which is eliminated from the PBC tournament.