"I wish I could shoot like him."
Junior guard Tra Holder admired the play of junior guard Kodi Justice after ASU men's basketball's 83-82 victory over USC, even though it was Holder's free throws that sealed the victory with 6.9 seconds left.
Justice finished with a career-high 22 points on 6-of-9 from three-point range. He was electric all night— making big plays all over the floor and displaying the swagger that has become his signature.
ASU trailed by 10 with 3:55 to go. An effective full-court press and big shots by Justice and his teammates carried the Sun Devils (14-16, 7-10 Pac-12) to the victory over the Trojans (22-7, 8-8 Pac-12).
"I'm a confident player," Justice said. "Down 10, I'm not worried about if we can come back — it's making sure everyone knows what we need to do to execute."
Justice's confidence was evident in the first few plays of the game. He hit a trio of three-pointers right off the bat — scoring nine of his team's first 12 points — and had the pep in his step that all great shooters get when they're feeling it.
The fourth three-pointer of the game for Justice provided the first part of a tremendous sequence. On ASU's next offensive possession, Justice drove to the basket and dished an over-the-shoulder pass to freshman forward Ramon Vila for a layup, garnering oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
Despite Justice's strong first half, the Sun Devils still trailed by one at halftime due to myriad defensive lapses — especially in transition.
"First half we scored and executed well minus the final minute," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. "Wish we could've done a better job there — down one as opposed to having a lead."
The Sun Devils and Trojans traded leads throughout the second half until USC started to pull away. Defense in the half-court and transition left plenty to be desired for ASU, so Hurley switched things up and went with a full-court press.
Scrappy players like Justice thrive in the press. One of the Sun Devils' steals resulted in a fading three-pointer by Justice that brought ASU within one.
USC threw the ball away again, Holder was clutch at the line again, and the Sun Devils escaped with an important victory as their season winds down.
"It's big, especially with the (Pac-12) tournament coming in a week or so where every game matters," Justice said. "We're just finding ways to win."
Before the Pac-12 tournament tips off on March 8, ASU has a date with rival Arizona at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena. The No. 4 Wildcats come in fresh off a home loss to No. 5 UCLA.
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