ASU junior forward Jonathan Gilling has had his ups and downs all season. His recent struggles have been so outgoing, coach Herb Sendek started sophomore center Eric Jacobsen in his place at power forward on Thursday for the first time this season.
That coaching change woke up the “Danish Dagger.”
Up 70-63 over Utah with 1:43 left, redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson broke the defense off a screen from senior center Jordan Bachynski and found Gilling waiting on the left wing for a wide-open 3-pointer.
The Sun Devils (14-5, 3-3 Pac-12) held on to defeat the Utes (14-5, 3-4 Pac-12), 79-75, returning confidence to an ASU team that had to get a win to maintain control its conference season.
“Even (though) we were 3-3, this is a must win game,” Bachynski said.
Gilling went perfect from the field, hitting all five of his field goals and making all three of his 3-pointers. He also finished with six assists.
“I thought Jon Gilling responded to coming off the bench exceptionally well,” Sendek said. “He competed on defense, moved the ball exceptionally well on offense. … He really made some tough shots and played a heck of a game.”
The game featured a moderate transformation for the Sun Devils, as Sendek needed his supporting cast to step up. In his first start of the season, Jacobsen had four points, two rebounds and two assists in 16 minutes as he battled foul trouble with three fouls.
Sendek said the change in the starting lineup was meant to improve ASU’s inside presence.
“Never was it more apparent than in our game in Tucson last week that our size and athleticism is a problem,” Sendek said. “We said every step of the way that our rebounding is a real challenge. So we decided we would give our team a different look and be able to play two ways. Eric has been getting better.”
Though it doesn’t show in Jacobsen’s final statline, it worked. The Sun Devils won the rebounding battle 34-31 against statistically one of the best rebounding teams in the Pac-12.
Gilling and Jacobsen weren’t the only breakout stars for ASU.
After scoring 13 points against UA on Jan. 16, redshirt junior guard Bo Barnes had another surprise game by scoring nine points on 3-of-6 shooting and three rebounds in 28 minutes. Barnes got much praise from Sendek, Carson and Bachynski for the intensity he’s played and practiced with all season.
“Bo works so hard,” Bachynski said. “It’s exhausting just watching him. He sprints on every possession.”
Barnes’ performance completely displaced freshman forward Egor Koulechov, who didn’t play in Thursday’s game.
“There’s only so many minutes, and what ended up happening was Bo Barnes got those minutes,” Sendek said.
It also helped the Sun Devils that Carson is finding his groove back.
Carson didn’t shoot the ball well at the start of the game, but he took over at the bottom of the second half and at one point scored six straight points in the last three minutes of the game. He finished with 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists.
Carson said he didn’t really try to carry ASU on his back. Sendek found that the Utes had trouble defending the two-man game between Carson and Bachynski, especially on ball screens.
It just made it easier for Carson to attack.
“They stopped switching,” Carson said. “They stopped putting (Utah junior center Dallin Bachynski) on me and they just started letting the guard guard me one-on-one … It was quite easy for me to get to the rim.”
Utah, a team that shoots just 33.9 percent from the perimeter for the season, had a slight edge in the tightly-contested first half as it shot 5-for-9 from the 3-point line.
ASU quickly adjusted in the second half by closing out on shooters and forcing Utah to give up turnovers.
While the second half was still contested, the Sun Devils got the Utes figured out from there.
“We had to be much better with our on-ball defense,” Sendek said. “We got caught of their hammer action backside, we went under a screen. That shifted the momentum in their favor. We did a better job later guarding ball screens than we did in other junctions of the game.”
Bachynski had 11 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks while limiting his younger brother, Dallin, to five points.
Jordan said the two played videogames at his house the night before and battled hard on the court 24 hours later.
“I won the between us, and then we won,” the older Bachynski said.
Senior guard Jermaine Marshall came back and started after hurting his groin just before the UA game but only scored seven points. Marshall played 27 minutes but didn’t look like himself and scored all of his points when Utah fouled in the last minute of the second half to stay in the game.
While the Sun Devils have regained control, they still have a long way to go, as ASU hosts Colorado on Saturday. The Sun Devils hope they can get more all-around contributions as they go on to conference play.
“It’s all about how you respond,” Bachynski said. “We need to come with the same intensity tomorrow in practice that we’ve had all week. … We’re going to respond the right way. We have great guys, great heads on their shoulders and we’re going to get to work again tomorrow.”
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