If two weekends ago marked a low point for ASU men’s basketball fans off the court, last weekend marked a new high for the program (and its fans) on the court, as the Sun Devils took down then-No. 2 UA in a double-overtime thriller.
Sun Devil fans got to storm the court not just once, but twice at Wells Fargo Arena after the biggest win in program history.
Once after a (now quite controversial) dunk by redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson, and once again after referees put 0.7 seconds back on the clock, allowing enough time for UA junior guard Nick Johnson to barely miss a 3-pointer to tie the game.
A part of me was even secretly hoping for Johnson to hit the game-tying shot, just so I could continue watching what played out like a heavyweight title fight. I could have watched three more overtimes, though it was probably a blessing for my cardiac functions when the final buzzer rang through the arena declaring a Sun Devil victory.
On Monday, I awoke to the announcement that Pac-12 officials missed the call and should have issued Carson a technical foul for hanging on the rim after the game-sealing exclamation dunk.
Some say Carson should have ran out the clock, but in the manic final moments of a game where points came at such a premium and free throws were anything but a guarantee, I say Carson did the only thing he could — go and get a bucket.
As far as his excessive hang time goes, another look at the video could lead one to argue that Carson was just trying to protect himself as senior guard Jonathan Gilling ran under him, followed immediately by senior guard Bo Barnes (I suggest watching the video multiple times as it gets better with each viewing).
Coach Herb Sendek said after the game that the possibility of a technical foul for Carson never crossed his mind, because he thought the game was over.
“I started to feel uneasy, because Arizona wasn’t leaving,” Sendek said. “Obviously, in retrospect, it would have been better to dribble out the clock, but to think of that in that moment would really be improbable. I wouldn’t have thought of it, I wouldn’t expect him to.”
Either way, the referees didn’t call it, and it was an incredible moment. Some, including myself, might even say it was the perfect ending to a fantastic and much-needed statement win for the team, the program and Sun Devil Nation.
Others, including just about every UA fan, think it was the reason the Wildcats lost the game, but Sendek made a great point Monday when he said that many calls were missed throughout the game and are missed throughout every game.
“That’s a discretionary call by officials; they have to make a split-second decision,” Sendek said of the non-call. “Certainly after 50 minutes of basketball, that wasn’t the only thing that determined the outcome of the game.”
Another factor that influenced the outcome may have been the ASU faithful and the 942 Crew, who even got a national nod on ESPN (fast forward to the 0:52 mark) and in the end senior center Jordan Bachynski praised fans and said that this year he noticed something he had never noticed in his four years at ASU.
“I remember every year the crowd does the ASU chant and then the U of A chant,” Bachynski said after the game. “It’s always a battle to see who is louder, and honestly, this is the first year that I heard the ASU louder than the UA.”
Now, it’s onward and upward and barring a complete meltdown over the last six games, the Sun Devils are right where they want to be — poised to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since the days of James Harden.
If ASU can replicate the grit and toughness that was on display this past weekend, while adding a little bit more cerebral play in crunchtime, Carson and company could be poised to steer Sun Devil Nation on a Cinderella-type run that even Harden wasn’t able to navigate.
It would be a much-needed and overdue run, and it could very well revive a program that hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 in in almost 20 years, and the Elite 8 in almost 40.
“Right now I’m just thinking about winning basketball games and making history here at Arizona State,” Carson said Monday.
So, here’s to history.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @NPMendoza