What was almost a collapse of historic proportions was not to be, as ASU (12-5, 3-2) was able to stave off a vicious Oregon State (11-5, 3-1) comeback and win 70-67 in dramatic fashion Thursday night.
Thanks to redshirt junior guard Rob Edwards' pair of clutch free throws with 12 seconds left, ASU escaped Wells Fargo Arena with a victory and a chance to secure its first conference series sweep of the season.
“We’re not like last year where we’re built to drain three's everywhere, run up and down and at times be capable of blowing teams out,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “We have to grind it out on defense like we did, and just to hold a team like Oregon State to 22 points through 25-26 minutes is a real accomplishment. The guys answered the bell to what we were talking about when preparing for this game.”
A defensive slugfest from the opening tip, both ASU and Oregon State had trouble finding the basket early on.
It wasn’t until a three-pointer from freshman forward Taeshon Cherry with 14:16 left in the first half that the Sun Devils began to flex their muscles, as ASU ripped off a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the night. It ended up being the final lead change of the game, as ASU capped off a dominant first half behind a staunch defensive effort that limited the Beavers to 7-27 (25.9 percent) shooting from the field including 3-14 (21.4 percent) from three.
“Defense is basically our identity,” Edwards said. “That’s what we talk about every day, that’s what we focus on. We know that once everybody locks up and plays defense then offense will come to us naturally.”
The second half was much of the same for ASU defensively, as they continued to put the clamps on any semblance of consistent outside shooting.
Yet, with about six minutes left in the game everything began to shift. Oregon State started to knock down some shots, and the scoring opportunities that had come so easily for the Sun Devils earlier in the game were nowhere to be found.
A pair of free throws from OSU senior guard Stephen Thompson Jr. with 5:59 left sparked a 20-11 run to pull the Beavers to within one with 12 seconds remaining on the clock.
After a bungled inbounds play nearly handed Oregon State the ball, Edwards was sent to the line with the ability to put the Sun Devils up three. While the rest of his teammates had struggled immensely at the charity stripe throughout the game, Edwards belief in himself never wavered.
“I work on free throws every day,” Edwards said. “I have a lot of confidence in myself. I don’t think about missing at all, I just think about whatever we got as our score, it’s going to be plus two.”
Edwards may be the only Sun Devil allowed to speak with such brazen confidence when discussing free throws, as the rest of the team once again looked clueless at the line. For the second straight game, ASU shot below 50 percent from the free throw line as the team connected on only 10 of 22 free throws for a dismal percentage of 45.5.
“We just have to dial in on our free throws,” sophomore guard Remy Martin said. “Those will come back and hurt us more if we don’t focus in and sink our free throws. We just have to get back in the gym and really concentrate and just make our free throws. That’s all that matters.”
With a win against Oregon State now under its belt, ASU has the chance to complete its first series sweep of Pac-12 opponents so far this season when the Oregon Ducks (11-6, 2-2) come to town this Saturday. Fresh off a win against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, the Ducks will be hungry to complete a sweep of its own and stay afloat in the malaise that is the Pac-12.
“We’ve shown in every game that we’re able to play and we’re able to beat any team we want to,” Martin said. “We just have to lock down, really focus and stay consistent. We haven’t been consistent throughout this whole year, and I think it’s coming, but we have to force it to now because the season starts now.”