The Arizona State seniors desperately wanted to go out with a NCAA tournament berth, and their goal is closer to reality after defeating California 78-60 on Saturday.
The two halves were night and day, as the Sun Devils exploded to score 49 points after halftime. Prior to the intermission, the offense couldn't find any consistent rhythm, notching just 29 points. Midway through the second half, ASU had already tallied 30 points.
"We moved the ball more, we weren't as stagnant. We played inside-out," point guard Jahii Carson said. "We cut harder, played harder. Maybe they got a little bit exhausted on defense and we got easier shots."
The Sun Devils somehow led 29-24 despite shooting 33.3 percent in the first half. In the final 6:41 of the first half, Carson and Co. went on a much-needed 11-1 run.
Jermaine Marshall carried the majority of the weight, accumulating 22 points. Anytime ASU needed a bucket to regain momentum, Marshall responded. Marshall presented problems for the Berkeley defense with his lethal shooting ability, connecting on 6-for-8 from downtown.
"Just being a fifth year senior, I feel like it's my job to make plays," Marshall said. "I really take a lot of pride in [converting in the clutch.] I hope I can continue to do so."
Marshall's headline act received plenty of support. The Arizona State bench tacked on 25 points, thanks in large part to Jonathan Gilling netting 15 points. Gilling only had four points in the first twenty minutes, and he took off from there. Head coach Herb Sendek said ASU is a "completely different team" when Gilling gets going.
Crowd favorite Bo Barnes went out playing his usual disruptive and aggressive basketball. Barnes routinely won 50-50 exchanges and provided stingy defense. Even though Barnes is a mere 6-foot-4, he racked up six rebounds.
"We were going through spells there where we almost got no scoring from our bench. Then we made the lineup change. Jon came in and Bo continued to elevate his play," Sendek said. "All four of our reserves that played contributed in a really positive way to the outcome."
The reserves provided valuable reinforcements, but it was the starters who brought the Wells Fargo Arena crowd to life. Shaquille McKissic threw down a monstrous up-and-under dunk while drawing contact. McKissic soared through the air like Blake Griffin, showcasing top-notch athleticism.
"[McKissic] does it all the time in practice. He threw one in the game, it's about time," Carson said. "That's some old Carrick [Felix] stuff.
Center Jordan Bachynski called the highlight reel dunk "insane."
Throughout the contest, Carson picked his spots sporadically. Carson went 4-for-9 from the field, resulting in nine points and four assists. Sendek said Carson will be going to the NBA draft, meaning this was also the last time he would play in front of home crowd. Going forward, Carson has allowed this program to gain exposure and new opportunities in recruiting.
"There have been a lot of articles written [about Carson]. There has been a lot of energy swirling around our program from the day he signed a letter of intent to be a Sun Devil," Sendek said. "Young prospects are able to identify with him. He has been a great asset to our program and he had a terrific two years with us."
The job at hand is far from over. Before the Pac-12 tournament in two weeks, Arizona State travels up to Oregon and Oregon State next weekend.
- ASU finished the regular season 16-1 at home, its best marker at Wells Fargo arena in over 40 years. Sendek praised the crowd for its support, particularly the 942-student section.
- Jordan Bachynski posted eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Bachynski reset his own Pac-12 blocks record at 173.
- The second half numbers for ASU are hard to believe, ending up 20-29, which is 69 percent from the field.
- No Sun Devil player eclipsed four assists, yet four Sun Devils reached that mark. ASU had 20 total assists on 29 made baskets.
- Jahii Carson played one of his better defensive games of his ASU career, disrupting star California player Justin Cobbs. Despite Carson sticking to Cobbs well, the Golden Bears' best player dropped 15 points on 6-of-9.
- Carson said ASU is playing its best basketball right now, which is ideal timing.
- Sendek said he feels very comfortable with his team's chances of making the NCAA tournament.