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ASU Basketball: Lightning strikes twice in Tempe, Sun Devils take down Arizona 81-78

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"And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang [it], and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth."

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

1 Samuel, chapter 17 verse 49.

That's where you'll find the parable about David and Goliath in the Bible. It's basketball lore after all, the same verse recited to the Hickory Hoosiers in the locker room before the state championship game in one of the greatest basketball movies of all-time.

The difference between the victory that night at Butler Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and the Sun Devils 81-78 triumph over Arizona 20-3 (8-2) Saturday afternoon? It happened for the second time in as many years.

Last season the stone ASU slung was an emphatic dunk which slayed the No. 2 Wildcats. This time it was a Bo Barnes three that might as well have been launched from northern Mexico due to its length. With 54 seconds left and the Sun Devils up 72-68, Barnes launched a fadeaway three from just right of the top of the key and drained it to give ASU 12-11 (4-6) a 7-point cushion, enough to stay ahead and beat the No. 6 Wildcats.

"From our view it looked like it was on target," head coach Herb Sendek said. "But until it went through the net we held our breath. It was a huge shot, I mean today that shot went for us. Today was a different story. Bo had such an iron clad will today. His determination was incredible."

It was also almost absent Saturday. Barnes wasn't planning to play this season, but when the coaching staff offered him a scholarship for another year, he decided to stay.

"The coaches always say to stay confident," Barnes added. "It felt pretty good, I saw the shot clock running down so I was just trying to get it up there."

It was different from last week against Oregon when Barnes air balled a three as time expired in overtime against Oregon. It was also a change from five weeks ago when the Sun Devils fell to the Wildcats 73-49 in Tucson. After that game, the result of today's matchup seemed like an impossibility. But not for Barnes, a local senior from Scottsdale who finished with a team-high 18 points.

"Every time you beat U of A it's an amazing feeling," Barnes said. "It shows we're good enough to play against anybody in the Pac-12 when we don't hurt ourselves."

ASU had injured itself plenty this season, both literally and figuratively. Kodi Justice is out for the season with a broken foot and the Sun Devils have lost eight games by 10 points or fewer due to foul trouble, poor free throw shooting and less than stellar rebounding ability. Saturday, those issues were a distant memory from their .500 record coming in.

ASU finished 22 of 28 from the free throw line, aided by Barnes and Tra Holder, who finished 8 of 8 and 8 of 9 from the charity stripe respectively, just one game removed from an overtime loss to Oregon when the team shot 7 of 15 from the line.

"That’s the life of a coach," Sendek said.  "When the ball goes in the basket, things have a greater chance of being in your favor and when they don’t it’s hard but the guys did a great job at the free throw line not to mention Bo who made a few in the clutch."

From touch to physicality, the Sun Devils also responded on the boards. The maroon and gold hung with the Wildcats on the board, barely losing the battle 37-34 against future NBA draft picks such as Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Stanley Johnson. After Eric Jabcobsen fouled out late in the game, it was the 6-foot-6 Savon Goodman who leaped up for rebounds out-muscling 7-footers. He finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds.

"We knew coming into the game nothing was going to be easy," Goodman said. "Our whole key was for me and Eric and partially Jon (Gilling) and Willie (Atwood) to just own the boards. We felt like if we owned the boards we had a good chance of winning the game."

Arizona had four players averaging almost five rebounds per game, but ASU won the defensive rebounding battle 25-19.

"We knew we had to compete tooth and nail on the boards," Sendek said. "I thought our guys did a good job battling in that area and we weren't destroyed, that's the key. If you want to compete with Arizona, you've got to rebound with them, there's no science to it."

There was, however, a formula to the ASU victory. The Sun Devils got off to a quick start, hanging with Arizona throughout the first 12 minutes. The maroon and gold then finished the half on a 19-4 run, highlighted by a Tra Holder to Goodman alley-oop slam dunk. Holder finished with 15 points and 8 assists, continuing his progression into a true Pac-12 point guard.

Threes from Gilling and Barnes continued to be the glue in the second half. Jacobsen, Gilling and Goodman all played with four fouls for the better part of the second frame. Still, ASU never gave up their lead even with a full court press late in the game, always providing themselves with at least a two-point cushion.

It seems to be a trend, too. ASU has now beaten Arizona three of the past four years in Tempe and Sendek improves to 9-8 against Arizona as the Sun Devils head coach.

T.J. McConnell led Arizona with 25 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Next up for the Sun Devils is the Washington road trip starting Deb. 13 in Pullman against Washington State with a 9 p.m. tip off on Pac-12 Networks.

"It was good enough to allow us to hang tight," Sendek said. "It's a great day for our guys. I'm just so happy for our players. We have terrific guys, they're easy to cheep for, I love coaching them. They deserve this, I couldn't be more thrilled for our players especially our seniors."

Notes

  • Sendek said after the game that McKissic just cramped up hard in the second half.
  • Connor MacDougall will have season ending shoulder surgery next week
  • Jon Gilling suffered a sprained shoulder during the game.