Star players are judged in the waning minutes of games and Jahii Carson did not disappoint down the stretch in Arizona State's 79-75 victory over Utah on Thursday night. Carson nailed two straight acrobatic layups late in the second half and followed those up with an impressive assist to Jonathan Gilling, who connected from the beyond the arc to essentially seal the win.
Carson struggled to finish at the rim for the majority of the evening, yet he found the soft touch at the right time. If it weren't for numerous tough breaks, Carson may have logged more than 23 points on 10-of-22 shooting. Carson was starting to generate negative press because of his recent woes -- but those doubters are probably silent for now.
"I haven't been around as many athletes who have the level of confidence that [Carson] has. He just has supreme confidence in himself and that's what you got to have to make those plays." Herb Sendek said. "Jahii did a great job of getting in the lane and creating shot opportunities, not only for himself but his teammates."
Utah and ASU traded baskets through the initial eight minutes of the game. Then, a beautiful out-of-bounds alley-oop layup by the Utes spark-plugged a 9-0 run. Through the majority of the half, Utah couldn't miss, connecting on nearly 70 percent of its attempts.
Jordan Loveridge anchored the surge and ended up being the toughest assignment for the maroon and gold. Loveridge carried the Utes by scoring 22 points with eight rebounds, surpassing his average of 16.4 points and nearly besting his average of 8.2 rebounds per game.
"We broke down a couple times on Loveridge early and once he got it going he was really a tough matchup for us," Sendek said. "He really made some difficult shots and played a heck of a game."
But as Sendek likes to say, "basketball is a game of runs." With 14:40 remaining, ASU rattled off a 13-2 spurt to regain the lead for the first time since the 13:00 minute marker of the opening half. Bo Barnes and Jonathan Gilling stepped up in that stretch.
Barnes was relegated to the bench in the beginning of the season and the junior guard grew quite accustomed to being overlooked. Jump ahead to to Jan. 23 and it's nearly impossible to not notice Barnes. The nine points Barnes provided don't jump off the statistic sheet, but his scrappiness, hustle and 3-point shooting ability caught the eye of his coach.
"By sheer force of will and countless relentless effort, [Barnes] just kept saying you need to find a way to get me on the floor," Sendek said."The energy he has brought to our team has been fantastic and contagious. Little bit by little bit, his role continues to grow."
At the same time, Jonathan Gilling just lost his starting job in favor of Eric Jacobsen. Gilling didn't mope around about the demotion -- he used it as motivation to show his worth. Gilling accumulated 13 points, six assists and four rebounds, which was arguably his best game of the 2013-14 campaign.
"Jon Gilling responded to coming off the bench exceptionally well." Sendek said. "He really competed on defense [and] moved the ball exceptionally well on offense. The icing on the cake was the big three he hit down the home stretch."
To make the NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils need to come victorious in close contests. Mission accomplished on Thursday night.
"I am really proud of the way our guys competed against an outstanding Utah team." Sendek said. "It wasn't an easy win -- it was one we had to fight tooth and nail to get."
- Jacobsen earned the start alongside Jordan Bachynski. Sendek said he liked the combination in certain situations.
- Carson and Bachynski both had three fouls in the early minutes of the second half, but the point guard-center duo made the issue seem irrelevant.
- Bachynski out-dueled his brother Dallin, tacking on another double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
- Shaquille McKissic kept ASU afloat in the beginning of the game, scoring five of the team's first seven points. McKissic went 3-for-4 and had 11 points.
- Jermaine Marshall returned from injury and started. However, Marshall looked off and Sendek thought his movement was hindered.
- ASU trots back onto Wells Fargo Saturday against Colorado at 5 p.m.