A little luck mixed with a dose of hard fought effort and a helping of a fired up coach was the formula for an ASU victory over Stanford Thursday night.
Perhaps most exemplified by a Tra Holder three pointer which had the normally reserved Herb Sendek very excited. It was followed up by Shaquielle McKissic and a miraculous and-1 midway through the first half.
"I knew the coaches were going to be on my case so I had to run the lane hard," McKissic said of his Sports Center top-10 worthy play. "I was surprised Tra gave it to me and I looked at (Anthony) Brown and he kind of bumped me. It was a hard shove but it was just one of those things where I was lucky I guess and the free throw was a tad bit lucky but it got me going."
McKissic's play came in the middle of a 12-0 run which sparked by a slam dunk and put back by Savon Goodman. The 6-foot-6 junior also managed to play most of the second half with four fouls. The game was called closely all night and while issues in the foul column have led to the Sun Devils demise in the past, that wasn't the case against the Cardinal.
"In a game where it wasn't always pretty, I really admired our team's toughness," Sendek said. "We had committed five fouls from the first media timeout. Savon and Eric (Jacobsen) both were in terrible foul trouble it seemed from the very beginning it seemed all the way to the end."
The Sun Devils managed to hold Stanford scoreless for the final 3:26 of the first frame. The Cardinal were just 8 of 27 from the field and 1 of 7 from behind the arc with 10 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Stanford put up more of a fight in the second half, tying the game at 47 with 10:36 to play. ASU eventually pulled away late and sank their free throws to seal the win.
"We weren't going to get into a game where we could outscore them," Sendek said. "We really had to rely on playing outstanding defense."
Senior big man Stefan Nastic established a presence in the paint and Stanford switched to a 2-3 zone in the second half but McKissic and the Sun Devils continued to persevere and kept attacking the basket. The drives led to more and ones including a key steal and lay up from Bo Barnes after which he was fouled with under a minute left.
"Coaches tell me don't settle for three even if it's open," he said. "They close out recklessly, that was the scout on them. Just to drive and jump stop and look for the open man or look for the shot."
McKissic went on to finish with a career high 23 points and 7 rebounds. Tra Holder added 15 points, 4 boards and 4 assists. The Sun Devils overcame a losing battle on the boards and shot 48 percent from the field and made 16 of 21 from the free throw line.
The coaches also provided an extra spark. Sendek as well as Stan Johnson were up and down pacing the sideline and yelling most of the game. Sendek could also be seen motioning to the crowd to get louder on numerous occasions.
" I thought that's what our team needed tonight," he said. "I wanted the fans to appreciate the effort our guys were giving and give us the best home court possible.
ASU can clinch a five seed with a win over Cal and an Arizona victory over Stanford Saturday but isn't something Sendek is concerned about.
"Our seed is irrelevant," he said. "I don't even want to look at those standings."
ASU will play the Bears Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena. The tip-off for the regular season finale is set for 12:30 p.m. MT.