LAS VEGAS — A high-flying and game-clinching dunk from ASU men's basketball's fifth-year guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. with 33 seconds left put an exclamation point on a 77-72 ASU win over USC in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals.
Cambridge Jr. finished the game Thursday in Las Vegas with an ASU career-high 27 points on 10-21 shooting, went 6-12 from the 3-point range, and grabbed seven rebounds. He was one of three Sun Devils to score double figures, joining his brother, senior guard Devan Cambridge, who scored 11, and junior guard DJ Horne, who scored 16.
"Yesterday, I didn't play well (against Oregon State), but my teammates did, and they lifted me, and I take that personally," Cambridge Jr. said. "Because my teammates put a lot of trust in me, I feel like I need to give that back to them, and that's why I did what I did today."
As a team, ASU had one of its best offensive outings of the season, shooting 14-32 (44%) from deep with 15 team assists on 23 made field goals.
The win snaps a seven-game ASU losing streak against the Trojans, dating back to February 2020.
Cambridge said after the game the team knew they could compete against USC, even after dropping both regular-season games against them earlier this year.
"But we know we could beat them, and we played hard today. We did it with intent, and everybody's locked in," Cambridge said.
ASU came out of the gate in rhythm against USC, in contrast to the game against OSU in Wednesday's opening round, peeling off an 8-0 run in the game's early minutes.
READ MORE: ASU survives ugly game against Oregon State in Pac-12 tournament game
The Sun Devils' 3-point shooting catalyzed the advantage they gained early on USC. ASU's first successful field goal was a 3-pointer, and started 3-3 from the 3-point line finishing 8-17 from three-point range in the first half, good for 47%.
Cambridge Jr. and Horne combined for 21 first-half points.
With freshman guard Austin Nunez out for his fifth straight game, head coach Bobby Hurley showed the "expanded" role he said sophomore forward Jamiya Neal had after the win against OSU in round one.
With sophomore guard Frankie Collins in foul trouble early in the game, Neal took point guard responsibilities when Collins was forced to exit the game five minutes in. And he excelled, scoring five quick points when he entered the game, despite heckling from the USC student section.
ASU's balanced offensive attack flourished enough after the early run to keep a steady lead over the Trojans; seven Sun Devils scoring in the first half.
Despite a strong offensive showing, ASU's defense thrived and laid the foundation for ASU to avoid what would've been a season-sweep from USC. ASU's defense forced USC to one of its worst first-half shooting displays of the season, as USC shot 7-27 from the field at 25.9 % and 3-10 from three. In addition to the Trojans' shooting woes, ASU's defense forced 14 Trojan turnovers that turned into 10 points.
USC entered the contest averaging 13.6 assists per game but only had one in the first half, which came at the nine minute mark.
Behind a pair of buckets from Cambridge Jr., ASU jumped out to a 17-point lead, it's most significant of the game, under two minutes into the second half. However, USC's offense awoke from its slumber and began hitting shots to close the gap. Still, ASU kept them in the rearview mirror as the Cambridge brothers provided an offensive spark combining for 38 points and 12 rebounds.
"They made some really tough shots tonight. A lot of threes, some end-of-shot clock shots, which was very difficult," said USC head coach Andy Enfield. "So I give them credit; they made shots tonight."
Around the three-minute mark, USC went on a 10-1 run while ASU was amid a scoring drought and cut ASU's lead to seven with around 90 seconds remaining at 67-60.
Despite USC's late run, Horne went 6-8 from the free throw line in the game's final 28 seconds to preserve ASU's lead and secure the 77-72 victory.
ASU entered the game as ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi's first team left out of the NCAA Tournament and included on 17 of 102 aggregated brackets on bracketmatrix.com, a service that analyzes projections made by an array of experts as to which teams will make the NCAA Tournament.
After the game, Horne said in the locker room that this win should vault ASU into tournament contention.
"I think it puts us right where we want to be," Horne said. "Takes us from going into Sunday praying, hoping and praying, to thinking that we have a legitimate chance of playing in the tournament."
ASU advances to a Pac-12 Tournament semifinal appearance and will face rival and two-seed Arizona in a rubber match after two competitive regular season matchups.
READ MORE: Half-court buzzer beater saves day, and perhaps ASU's season, in 89-88 win over Arizona
Hurley said he and the team are grateful for the opportunity to face such a talented team in the late rounds of the tournament.
"We have a lot of respect for Arizona and the program they have and what they have accomplished since I've been here," Hurley said. "But it's what you live for. To be in the semifinals of a tournament like this with the teams that are still left, we feel blessed and just can't wait for the opportunity."
Arizona is 26-6 on its season and 14-6 in the Pac-12. The Wildcats beat Stanford Thursday 95-84. Arizona and ASU will duke it out again Friday at 9:30 p.m. MST for a chance at the finals.
Cambridge Jr. said it would take focus to overcome the emotional finish to the last ASU-Arizona contest, where he had a game-winning shot.
"These are the games you live for," Cambridge Jr. said. "That last game, that was amazing. It's going to be hard to overcome that just in terms of feeling. But I have never experienced a Pac-12 championship either, and I know that's going to feel good. So to do that, we have to beat a good team like Arizona."
Edited by Walker Smith and Piper Hansen.
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