Trailing by 16 points early in the second half, the Arizona State basketball team showed the Washington Huskies exactly what they were made of.
It turns out, the Sun Devils have one of the most talented players in the country and a supporting cast that has enough potential to help the maroon and gold make a run at the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately for Coach Herb Sendek, the deficit that his team created in the first half against the Huskies turned out to be too much to overcome. However, the Sun Devils' epic comeback effort did reveal that this team still has the pieces to secure an at-large tourney bid.
On Saturday night, Jahii Carson and company took to the floor in Seattle to duke it out against a Washington Huskies squad still reeling from a second half collapse against the Arizona Wildcats on Wednesday. It's no secret to opposing defenses that the Sun Devils rely heavily on Carson for most of their offensive firepower, but that didn't stop the freshman from putting together another career night.
After scoring 10 points in the first half, the Arizona State point guard attempted to will his team to victory for the second straight game. Carson's late game heroics gave the Sun Devils multiple opportunities to steal a win in the final two minutes, but his 22 second half points say much more than another tick in the loss column does.
Ultimately, the Sun Devils couldn't muster enough support from Carson's peers and they fell to the Huskies in a high-scoring 96-92 battle. Jonathan Gilling poured in 22 points on 8-10 shooting, but for Arizona State to win against quality opponents, it usually needs at least three or four players to step up in big ways.
Coupled with the victory over Washington State on Thursday night, the Sun Devils finished the road trip with a split decision. Most experts handicapped Sendek's squad as a team that needed two victories on the Northwest road trip to solidify its status as a contender, but the loss to the Huskies won't kill the Sun Devils' March Madness dreams.
Winning conference road games is crucial for a tournament resume, but the Sun Devils might be able to steal enough victories at home to put together a mark that a selection committee has a hard time turning down.
At the moment, the Sun Devils' record stands at 17-5 with nine regular season games remaining. If Arizona State can take six or seven of their final nine and pick off a game or two in the Pac-12 conference tournament, the Sun Devils will have enough quality victories to turn a few heads.
In all likelihood, the magic number for the maroon and gold is 25. If Arizona State can reach the quarter century mark in the win column, it would be a travesty for the Sun Devils to be denied a tournament berth.
Reaching that 25-win mark won't be easy, as Jahii Carson will have to continue his torrid pace. The superstar is churning out 20-point games nearly every night, but his presence alone won't be enough for the Sun Devils to reach the promise land.
Carrick Felix was virtually nonexistent on the glass on Saturday night, and that's a problem that needs a fix. Felix grabbed a single rebound against the Huskies, and has scored just 21 points in his past two games.
Aside from Carson and Felix, the Sun Devils desperately need another starter to hit a hot streak. Evan Gordon has played well of late, but his five point outing against the Huskies suggests a regression. Jordan Bachynski dominated the UCLA Bruins last week, but he has struggled to maintain consistency in Pac-12 play.
The wild comeback against the Huskies showed the best and worst of Arizona State this season. From one viewpoint, the Sun Devils never should have dug such a deep hole against Washington. Their disappointing play in the first half and sluggish start to the second half was discouraging to every Sun Devil supporter.
From another view, Jahii Carson's superior performance showed the Sun Devils can keep up with just about anyone. When Carson is playing well and the other starters are contributing, Arizona State is downright dangerous.