As ASU men's basketball coach Bobby Hurley called timeout with 41 seconds remaining in the game, a rolling murmur began to overtake the ASU crowd.
By the time the substitution had been announced, and redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham began his slow trot off the floor, the Sun Devil faithful had reached a full-on roar.
They were celebrating the glorious final seconds of an all-time Sun Devil – a man who, despite spending only one season in the Maroon and Gold, left an impact on Tempe like few before him had.
Sunday wasn’t the crispest game of Cheatham’s career, as the redshirt senior only scored eight points on 3-for-11 shooting, but it was just enough to snag a victory as ASU (19-8, 10-5 Pac-12) defeated Cal (5-22, 0-15 Pac-12) 69-59.
“Zylan man, that’s a one-of-a-kind guy,” sophomore guard Remy Martin said. “What he’s done for this program has been amazing, and without him, I don’t know where we would be right now. Zylan’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever played with, just because he doesn’t care about anything except winning. All he cares about is contributing and helping his team win.”
Cheatham continued his season-long assault on the boards, grabbing 12 rebounds to go along with his three assists. He was a constant presence on both ends of the floor, often initiating the offense on one end of the floor and orchestrating the defense on the other.
“He loves to play, he plays with his heart, and his soul, and his emotion,” Hurley said on Cheatham. “He’s got a lot of special qualities that are going to do him well beyond basketball and when he’s done playing.”
Cheatham wasn’t the only senior celebrated Sunday night, as senior forward De’Quon Lake said one final goodbye to Wells Fargo Arena.
Lake earned his second start of the season against Cal, and only the third of his career.
His first career start came in his first game as a Sun Devil – a 94-74 win over Idaho State Bengals to open the 2017-18 season – and provides a touching bookend to a stellar two-year career.
His performance on Sunday was one of his finest of the season, as the senior scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds and swatted away two shots to go along with his consistently solid defense.
“De’Quon can be an intimidator in the paint, and then a finisher (on offense), and those are things that we really need from him when he’s out there,” Hurley said. “He was just more active tonight, and I think he wanted to finish his career here the right way.”
Freshman guard Luguentz Dort led the Sun Devils' offensive attack with his 22 points on 6-for-11 shooting. He put constant pressure on the Golden Bears' interior defense, time and time again weaving through Cal defenders to produce easy opportunities for him and his teammates.
Dort lived at the free throw line Sunday night, and while the charity stripe has given the freshman troubles at certain points throughout the season, he was calm and collected throughout this game as he connected on 8-for-9 free throws to help secure the victory.
Dort was also an absolute menace on the defensive side of the floor in the win, often harassing the Golden Bear ball handlers the length of the floor. Dort’s ability to disrupt an offense before it even gets started was a huge factor in producing the 17 Cal turnovers.
“Lu’s individual defense was as good as I’ve seen this season,” Hurley said. “I don’t know if I’ve played against another guy or competed against another player that could harass and guard (like he can). He’s special at that end of the floor.”
The Sun Devils now find themselves winners of three consecutive games, and an odds-on favorite to nab one of the four byes in the Pac-12 Tournament.
All that remains for ASU is a trip up north to face the two Oregon schools and a battle against the rival Wildcats in Tucson.
With a bid to the NCAA tournament far from a formality, the next few weeks remain very crucial as the Sun Devils look to secure their second straight trip to the Big Dance.