Monday's Legends Classic semifinal against the North Carolina State Wolfpack in Brooklyn brought a change of pace, opponent wise, for the Arizona State Sun Devils. For the first time all year, Bobby Hurley's team faced an adversary that was just as talented and athletic as it was.
The response was an encouraging one. Arizona State made just enough shots down the stretch to escape with a 79-76 win, lifting its record to 3-1 on the young season.
The reward? A trip to the championship game of the mini-tournament, where the Marquette Golden Eagles await after upsetting No. 22 LSU earlier on Monday.
After a quick start on offense for both teams in the first five minutes of this game, NC State (2-2) began to dominate the glass. Back-to-back putbacks gave the Wolfpack a 17-16 lead at the under-12 media timeout, and that lead was pushed out to 26-22 four minutes later.
While the jump shots took a while to fall, the Sun Devils worked their way back into the game with an increased emphasis on rebounding. The deficit was cut to 38-37 with five seconds remaining in the first half, and the maroon and gold actually ended up taking a lead into the locker rooms thanks to a banked in Andre Spight three-pointer at the buzzer.
Mark Gottfried had his team come out in a zone to start the second hald, and Arizona State quickly shot them out of it. Guard Tra Holder buried a 26-footer to make the score 51-43, and Spight soon followed it with another bank shot to push the lead to double digits. That shot forced a timeout from Gottfried, making the largest advantage for either team.
The Wolfpack trimmed the deficit by employing a full court press that thoroughly puzzled the Sun Devils. They appeared to have it beat on numerous occasions, only to come back one or two possessions later and turn the ball over again.
A persistent NC State defense stuck with the pressure for the majority of the final half, and it got the payoff the Wolfpack wanted when a 13-2 run put ASU down 67-66 with just five minutes to play.
To its credit, though, Hurley's team did not roll over after seeing their large lead evaporate.
The teams went back and forth down the stretch, trading both big baskets and stops. A hard-nosed drive to the basket by Savon Goodman with 90 seconds left gave Arizona State a 75-73 lead. Twenty seconds later, Holder hit a huge three after being left all alone at the top of the arc that pushed the lead to five.
The Wolfpack eventually whittled the deficit down to three and had a good look at the basket as time expired to send the game to overtime. Anthony Barber's try was just off, however, giving the Sun Devil a hard-earned, 79-76 victory.
Holder and Barber led all scorers with 22 points, but Goodman's play was the biggest x-factor of the game, as he finished with 21 points and 16 rebounds.
The win sets up a matchup with a familiar opponent in Tuesday night's championship game in Brooklyn. It will be the third meeting in as many years between Marquette and Arizona State, and will also feature a coaching matchup between two former Duke point guards.
Tipoff is set for 6:00 p.m. (MT) on Tuesday and the game will be televised on ESPN2.