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Tra Holder's clutch free throws pull ASU men's basketball past Colorado

The Sun Devils squeaked by the Buffs thanks to the effort by Holder.

ASU head coach Bobby Hurley speaks to players during a timeout in a basketball game against the Citadel Bulldogs in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley speaks to players during a timeout in a basketball game against the Citadel Bulldogs in Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona, on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016.

Ice. In. His. Veins.

With 16.9 seconds remaining at Wells Fargo Arena, ASU men's basketball trailed Colorado 77-76, and head coach Bobby Hurley drew up an isolation play for his leading scorer: senior guard Torian Graham.

Graham was alone on the right wing as the clock dwindled. After a series of dribble moves, he pulled up for a contested three-pointer that clanged off the rim. Hope nearly disappeared for ASU, but sweeping through the lane was senior point guard Tra Holder, who grabbed the ball and attempted a putback layup. It fell short.

However, Holder's effort paid off. He was fouled with 1.6 seconds left as the groans of disappointment  from the Sun Devil faithful turned quickly to cheers.

"At the end of games, I try to crash the boards and get extra opportunities for us," Holder said. "It just popped in my hand to be honest. I just tried to throw it up."

After a timeout, Holder calmly buried both free throws to give the Sun Devils (9-7, 2-1 Pac-12) the 78-77 victory. Holder's teammates mobbed him after Colorado's halfcourt shot was blocked, burying the 6'1" fireplug under a dog pile.

Hurley, who almost instinctually joined the dog pile with his players before remembering he had a handshake to deliver, commended the effort by Holder on the final play.

"It was a terrific individual play," Hurley said. "Great awareness for him to go to the glass like that. To step up to the free throw line with that type of pressure and make two is not easy."

This game wasn't easy in the end for ASU against a scrappy Colorado team that stayed close despite a rough and tumble first half. The Buffaloes (10-5, 0-2 Pac-12) held the lead for just eight minutes total, compared to almost 30 for ASU.

A solid first half for the Sun Devils was highlighted by excellent play from freshman forward Jethro Tshisumpa, whose shot blocking and rebounding proved valuable against a talented Colorado front line. He wouldn't last long in this one, though, earning an ejection after a skirmish with Colorado forward Xavier Johnson, who was also ejected as a result.

Tempers cooled down a bit before ASU took a 41-36 lead into the break. At this stage, the game was even in rebounds (17) and points in the paint (20).

By the end of the game, the Buffaloes were +8 in the paint and +4 on the boards — and it showed.

The Sun Devils struggled to defend the interior and found rebounding to be an even greater challenge than it usually is, thanks in large part to Tshisumpa's ejection and freshman forward Ramon Vila fouling out. The only available rotation player on ASU's bench for a back-and-forth final stretch was junior Maurice O'Field.

"Sometimes you don't have a bunch of guys — you need the right guys," Hurley said. "I think right now we have the right guys."

Senior guard Derrick White poured in 35 for Colorado, including a layup that could've been the game-winner if not for Holder's herculean effort. Graham and junior guard Shannon Evans each notched 18 to lead the Sun Devils in the scoring department.

"That was one hell of a game," Evans said. "Two teams going at it. I felt like whoever got the last stop was going to win."

Next up for ASU is a quick turnaround to a 3 p.m. bout with Utah on Saturday in Tempe. Hurley said his team will go back and watch film from the Colorado game, focusing primarily on the positives.

Reach the reporter at or follow @RyanTClarke on Twitter.

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