Albany State women's basketball coach Robert Skinner watched his Lady Rams erase a 12-point deficit in the second half and storm back to win Friday's NCAA Tournament game against Delta State. (Herald file photo)
FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In the days leading up to Friday’s game, Albany State’s Tip Holston called the Lady Rams “the most-praying team in all of college basketball.”
On Friday night, those prayers seemed to be answered.
ASU coach Robert Skinner called it a “minor miracle.”
The No. 5 seed Lady Rams erased a 12-point second-half deficit to stun No. 4 Delta State in the NCAA Division II Tournament opener, 49-45.
Delta State started the game with one of Division II’s most decorated resumes on the basketball court, but Albany State finished the game with an inspired comeback to keep its season alive.
It was the Lady Rams’ first victory in team history against Delta State — which was 15-0 against ASU before Friday’s game — and one of the biggest wins ever for a program that is playing in its first national tournament since 1998.
“I really believe this is a stepping stone for bigger and better things in the future,” Skinner said. “It’s definitely a signature win for us. There were a lot of critics and people who thought we didn’t deserve to be here and didn’t deserve to earn an automatic bid, so I really feel good about what happened (Friday) evening.”
ASU (22-6) advances to play No. 1 seed and nationally-ranked No. 10 Nova Southeastern in tonight’s regional semifinals.
“Don’t remind me,” Skinner said when asked about the looming matchup with Nova. “We will have to score points. We aren’t going to slow Nova down to keep them under 50 points. We have to come up with ways to make our offense work for us. I have 20 hours to come up with something.”
Holston and former Crisp County star Keidra Green carried the Lady Rams with 16 and 15 points, respectively. The duo kept the Lady Rams in it early despite poor shooting from the rest of the team, and then they hit the key shots down the stretch to put away Delta State, the 15th-ranked team in the country.
“They carried us throughout the game,” Skinner said, referring to Green and Holston. “Holston took control in the second half, and Green started the game off with eight straight points. She came out hot and ready to go.”
With senior sharpshooter Kourtney Alexander held scoreless, ASU’s Jillian Anderson came off the bench to spark the Lady Rams’ comeback. In the span of a minute midway through the second half, Anderson scored six unanswered points to pull ASU to within one point.
Two minutes later, Green scored to give ASU its first lead since the opening seconds of the game — and it was an advantage that the Lady Rams never gave back.
“It’s a good feeling to come down here and win this with how poorly we played,” said Skinner, whose team shot just 32 percent from the floor and 60 percent from the free throw line. “We were still able to play defense well enough to win. It was a minor miracle, but it happened. I am really pleased with the girls and the way they hung in there after getting down 10 in the second half and fighting back to get the victory.”
Anderson finished the game with eight points, four rebounds and a key block in the final seconds that prevented Delta State from getting off a potential game-tying shot. ASU point guard Mecca Frost hit a free throw with 15 seconds left to give the Lady Rams a 48-45 lead. On Delta State’s final possession, Chelsey Rhodes missed a game-tying 3-pointer and ASU sophomore and former Westover star Ieshia Young sealed the victory with a free throw with two seconds left.