LAS VEGAS — Wednesday’s game was a virtual microcosm of how the ASU men’s basketball team’s regular season turned out this year.
Even ASU coach Herb Sendek made the observation.
“First, it was close,” Sendek said. “Second, it went into overtime and third, I thought our guys once again just played with a lot of heart.”
Unlike their season that ended in a four-game losing streak however, the Sun Devils (21-11, 9-9 Pac-12) escaped and defeated Stanford (18-14, 9-9 Pac-12) 89-88 in overtime to advance to the second round vs. UCLA.
The Sun Devils started off hot and at one point controlled the half with a nine-point lead. Still, ASU only led Stanford 35-33 at halftime.
Like the second half of their season, the Sun Devils had trouble getting leverage over their counterparts. It was a back-and-forth battle with ASU barely hanging on to its lead all throughout the next 20 minutes.
Up four, ASU tried to control its lead in the last minute of regulation by holding on to the ball and hitting free throws but a new game broke out. Sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling knocked down Stanford junior guard Aaron Bright on his 3-pointer from the right wing. Bright converted the following free throw to complete the four-point play that tied the game up at 79 with 38 seconds left in the second half.
“It did hurt that he hit that shot,” senior wing Carrick Felix said. “I mean, it took a lot out of us.”
In overtime, redshirt freshman guard Jahii Carson and junior Evan Gordon led the charge for the Sun Devils. Carson scored ASU’s five points of the period that gave it back the lead. Gordon hit seven of his eight attempts from the free-throw line that helped ASU seal the 89-88 overtime win.
The Sun Devils, who shot a conference-low 62.2 percent from the free-throw line, went 14-for-17 as a team from the charity stripe.
“We got the right guys to the line and they made them,” Sendek said. “That’s been as much as our undoing in close games as any other factor.”
Carson ended the game with 34 points, which is the most by a freshman in Pac-12 Tournament history. Carson scored many of his points from the paint and said he used this critical moment as a chance to address his doubters.
“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder growing up,” Carson said. “People called me disabled because of my size on the basketball court, and I use that to my full advantage. I try to attack the paint, fearless, and just try to go up and score and make big plays.”
As it helped orchestrate its second-half comeback in the first meeting against Stanford, ASU went with smaller lineups much throughout the game Wednesday. Felix played the majority of the game at center with Gilling and even 6-foot-4 sophomore wing Bo Barnes playing the four-spot. Junior center Jordan Bachyski played just eight minutes despite starting the game.
Felix finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds and drew much praise from Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins.
“I thought he gave them great leadership, great energy,” Dawkins said. “He guarded multiple positions from the 3 to the 5 and I thought he was outstanding as well.”
ASU faces UCLA Thursday that follows just 22 hours after the final buzzer against Stanford sounded, with UCLA having a first-round bye. The Sun Devils split the season series with the Bruins, but Carson believes the momentum ASU is riding on will help it upend UCLA.
“I think we come out with the same mentality we came out with today, the same energy, the same toughness, I think we can control the game and control the tempo,” he said. “And I think it’s going to be a pretty good game. We come out with a victory if we come out with the same mentality we had today.”
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