The final minute of ASU’s contest against UMass Lowell featured four lead changes, two steals and one game-winning bucket by none other than junior guard Frankie Collins. The Sun Devils came alive late to win a 71-69 thriller against the River Hawks.
The game started in frustrating fashion as ASU fell flat and shot just 26% from the field. Meanwhile, UMass Lowell quickly drained two three-pointers and started taking high-percentage shots close to the hoop.
The undersized Red Hawks dominated inside and scored 22 points in the paint in the half. UMass Lowell players, big and small, fought for rebounds and overwhelmed taller Sun Devils to convert shots. Even 5-foot-11-inch guard Ayinde Hikim was able to score in the paint.
ASU’s offense showed signs of life late in the first as several players sank shots to trim the lead. A highlight play came when graduate transfer guard Jose Perez backed into a defender, made a contested shot and converted an and-one opportunity.
“He's a unique player, he could score, he can get to the free throw line, and he's a willing passer,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “He needs to have the ball, and other guys will too. We're still learning to trust each other and share the ball the right way.”
In the second half, Hurley’s offense looked like a different team, with Perez leading the charge. Perez knocked down tough shots from mid-range and close, scoring 14 points in the half, five of which came from the free-throw line.
“This is a save-our-season type of game because this is one of the games down in March that could kill you,” Perez said. "We didn't want to lose at home. We wanted to give the fans something to go home to.”
The Sun Devils made up for poor play in an exciting final 10 minutes, during which ASU started full-court pressing and forced 10 turnovers to help close the gap. When they managed to break out of the press, the Red Hawks offense started falling apart as they began missing shots they’d drained in the first half.
“We have a really good press,” graduate forward Alonzo Gaffney said. “Our defense is still really good. When we come out with that type of desperation, we're going to generate stops.”
Collins took advantage of UMass Lowell’s slump to tie the game with a minute left. UMass Lowell then kept a lengthy offensive possession alive in which it picked up an offensive rebound to control the clock. Collins stepped up again by forcing a turnover to regain possession.
Needing a go-ahead basket, junior guard Jamiya Neal passed to Perez. He carried the ball at the top of the key, drove into the paint and drained a fadeaway jumper to put ASU on top 69-67.
Down but not out, UMass Lowell’s Yuri Covington got fouled with less than 10 seconds left. ASU students tried their best to distract Covington with the Curtain of Distraction, but Covington made both shots.
The game was in Hurley’s hands as he decided to play out the final possession. Collins ran down the court, weaved through defenders and made a contested layup to seal ASU’s 71-69 win.
The last-second victory sent ASU fans into a frenzy but left Hurley wanting more from his squad. The team shot efficiently later on, but dug itself a hole in the first half and let UMass Lowell take too many good looks. Granted, Hurley is still experimenting with lineups and is yet to find the team’s identity after so much roster turnover.
“I'm not saying every team is the same, but this way we've started the season, in a way to me, mirrors how we started last season,” Hurley said. “It's very highly coincidental. We're still searching, and we need to find it.”
Hurley has a week to straighten out the team’s problems before they face BYU in Las Vegas on Nov. 23. Tipoff is at 10 p.m. MST.
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan