When Herb Sendek was an assistant under Rick Pitino at Providence and then Kentucky, they played a team that was missing an important player. The now Louisville head coach wrote one thing on the board:
"Beware of the wounded tiger"
That's the same message Sendek relayed to his ASU team Sunday night before facing a USC team that lacked sophomore guard Katin Reinhardt, who was averaging 12 points per game coming in.
"Because it always fights a little harder," Jonathan Gilling added.
In fact, it nearly bit ASU, almost denying them of any chance at an NIT birth. Gilling heard that pre game message loud and clear, hitting a three with 44 seconds left to put the Sun Devils up 59-56. It gave the maroon and gold its first lead since 15:52 left in the first half and sealed their fourth win in their last five games.
"I just came off and let it fly," Gilling said. "It wasn't something we drew up or anything so I didn't know it was going to happen so I didn't really relish on it."
It harked back to memories of an early October night in Los Angeles and a similar play now nicknamed the "Jael Mary" with a heave late in the game that resulted in an answered prayer of sorts against the same school. Gilling's release on the shot wasn't his normal release, he put more push behind the ball as he jumped.
Gilling was just 1 of 6 shooting on the night before letting the three fly.
"He reminded us why we call him the 'Danish Dagger,'" head coach Herb Sendek said. "It takes a lot of courage when things aren't going your way in a close game to rise up and make that kind of shot."
To say things "aren't going your way" is putting it kindly. ASU shot just 32.8 percent from the field, the second lowest in a win under Sendek since January 2009 in Tucson against Arizona. The Sun Devils were just 6 of 26 from three and turned the ball over 11 times and made just 19 of 58 total shots.
While ASU struggled, USC made 10 of their first 11 shots in the second half.
"As simple as it sounds, it's a function of the ball going in the basket," Sendek said. "We just had this sense as a coaching staff that some of our frustrations on offense; not converting in transition, finishing around the basket, missing open threes adversely effected us on defense."
That all turned around when the Sun Devils started to attack and play a better brand of defense midway through the second half. With 9:53 to play, ASU found themselves down 51-41 and at a turning point in the game.
"The look in our eyes changed," Gilling said. "We let our struggles on offense effect our defense a little bit. But as we have been the last three home games we've just been fighting back, scratching and clawing."
ASU went on a 23-8 run from that point on to close out the game, only committing two turnovers along the way. Gerry Blakes led the Sun Devils with 12 points and 8 rebounds while Eric Jacobsen also contributed 10 boards. Bo Barnes finished with 11 points while Tra Holder and Shaquielle McKissic each had 10 points. Holder also added five assists to his stat line.
"Our guys really competed and showed a lot of determination along the way," Sendek said. "We're just fortunate our guys stepped up and found a way to win."
ASU now heads on the Rocky Mountain road trip. They will play Utah Thursday night with an 8:30 p.m. MT tip off on Fox Sports 1.