The ASU men’s basketball team’s back was up against the wall.
Trailing by seven points at the half, the Sun Devils needed a big second half to rally and keep their conference title hopes alive.
When the going gets tough on the road, teams rely on their seniors to lead the way. On Thursday at Maples Pavilion, center Eric Boateng and guard Derek Glasser did just that.
The duo combined for 44 points to lead ASU to a 68-60 come-from-behind victory over the Cardinal, setting up a first-place showdown Saturday afternoon against California.
“Those two seniors put us on our back and carried us for 40 minutes,” junior guard Jamelle McMillan said during his postgame radio interview. “You have to give a lot of credit to Boateng and Glasser tonight.”
It was ASU’s 20th win of the season, giving it three straight 20-win seasons. It was also the team’s fifth road win in the Pac-10, making this just the sixth season ever that ASU (20-8, 10-5 Pac-10) has won five or more conference road games.
Early on, Stanford’s Drew Shiller came out gunning. The senior guard, who averaged just 7.6 points per game coming into the game, scored 11 points in the first five minutes of the game and Stanford built a 16-8 lead with 14:39 to play in the first half.
The Cardinal (13-15, 7-9 Pac-10) built its lead up to 23-12 on a jumper by senior forward Landry Fields with 9:50 left in the first half.
ASU was struggling on defense and coach Herb Sendek wasn’t enjoying it.
During a timeout, the normally calm Sendek was fired up at his team and broke a clipboard.
“He has a lot of passion for the game, and he believes in us,” McMillan said of Sendek. “For a stretch there, we weren’t playing defense.”
Following the bucket by Fields, ASU went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to just 23-21 with 7:31 left in the half. McMillan finished the run with a two-point jumper and followed with a 3-pointer that made it a two point game.
Stanford had an answer as Fields scored on the next possession, and after a missed three by McMillan, senior guard Emmanuel Igbinosa hit a 3-pointer to build the Cardinal lead up to 28-21.
A dunk by Boateng cut the deficit to 32-28 with just over a minute to play in the half, but a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Jeremy Green at the buzzer gave Stanford a seven-point halftime advantage.
The Sun Devils were so focused on the two-headed scoring machine of Fields and Green that they allowed guys like Shiller and Igbinosa to hurt them in the first half.
“All eyes were on them,” McMillan said of Fields and Green. “Early, we paid too much attention to those two guys.”
Stanford built its lead up to nine points early in the second half, before ASU’s defense kicked it up a notch and didn’t allow the Cardinal to score for more than seven minutes.
Good defense led to offense, and ASU took control of the game with a 13-0 run that turned a nine-point deficit into a 45-41 lead on a 3-pointer from Glasser with 11:39 left. Glasser and Boateng had all but two points during the crucial run.
“Once we established ourselves on the defensive end, we got going on the offensive end, and were able to sustain it,” McMillan said.
Stanford cut the lead to two points, but ASU went on an 8-0 run to build its biggest lead of the game at 53-43.
In all, Stanford scored just two points in more than 10 minutes of play on 1-of-10 shooting and turned the ball over three times during the stretch, allowing ASU to outscore Stanford 21-2.
The Cardinal cut the lead down to 58-54 with 2:34 to play and had the ball back after junior guard Ty Abbott missed a 3-pointer.
Igbinosa missed a shot from beyond the arc, but Shiller grabbed the offensive rebound that gave Green a look at a 3-pointer — but he missed.
On the other end, Glasser missed a running layup, but Boateng was there to tip it back in and give ASU a six-point lead with 46 seconds to play. The bucket was credited to Boateng, but replays showed that it was actually Fields who accidentally tipped the ball into his own basket.
Igbinosa nailed a 3-pointer to cut it to 62-57 with 30 seconds left, but Glasser and junior forward Rihards Kuksiks went a combined 8-of-8 from the line to ice the victory.
Boateng finished with a career-high 24 points and was a perfect 11-of-11 from the field.
“Words couldn’t describe his performance tonight,” McMillan said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all. The guy puts in 180 percent every day. He has two feet in, and I’m proud of him. He has put himself in this position.”
Glasser finished with 20 points and a perfect 9-of-9 from the free throw line.
Abbott was held scoreless in the first half but finished with 10 points.
The trio of Boateng, Glasser and Abbott scored 54 of ASU’s 68 points.
“They were physical early,” McMillan said of Stanford’s defense on Abbott. “They learned their lesson from the first game, but he didn’t let that affect him, and he made a huge difference on the defensive end. [It is a] credit to him for keeping his head in the game.”
Now the showdown is set. On Saturday afternoon in Berkeley, first place and control of the conference championship are on the line.
“It is going to be a fun game on their floor,” McMillan said. “You have to expect 100 percent from both teams, and it is going to come down to patience, poise and execution on both ends. It is going to come down to heart.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org