As the clock hit zero and ASU 17-14 (9-9) emerged victorious over Cal 17-14 (7-11) Saturday afternoon, the 0-4 start to conference play for the Sun Devils was a distant memory. The marked improvement by the maroon and gold since that time showcased itself against the Bears, a nearly perfect microcosm of what the 2014-15 season has been for ASU.
"We just didn't give up," Shaquielle McKissic said. " It's not about how you start but how you finish, and I knew that at the midway point we've got a lot of games to still win."
It came down to the wire, the kind of game the Sun Devils had lost so many times in the non-conference portion of their schedule. It fittingly took a whole team effort to come away with the win, led by a player who wasn't sure if he'd see the court at all at ASU. McKissic finished with 21 points and 7 rebounds. Savon Goodman added 18 points and 8 rebounds.
"When you get a new group of guys, it's hard to win especially at the Division I level," McKissic said. "I had to learn so much new stuff, but I've loved every second of it."
The first half was separated into two with both teams taking their own share dominating. Cal took its turn first, scoring the first nine points of the game and starting 9 of 10 shooting from the field.
"You could tell by the way we were warming up that we weren't ready to go and it showed the first three minutes," Barnes said. "We knew we just had to get focused back in and once we did we went on that huge run."
ASU then dominated the final 10 minutes of the first frame. They came back and took a 28-26 lead, while the Bears finished 3 of 21 from the field after their hot shooting start. Gerry Blakes and McKissic took control and gave the Sun Devils a 35-32 lead at halftime.
The Sun Devils exploded out of the gate in the second half on an 8-0 run, but Cal continued to make it a game and came to within one point of tying the game 67-66 with 34 seconds left. Fittingly, on senior day, two players who were playing their last regular season home game in Barnes and McKissic made their free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
"It's just kind of one of those things where the big guys have gotten into foul trouble so we've had to improvise in certain situations," McKissic said. "But it's a good thing we're winning them down the stretch."
ASU shot 45.6 percent from the field on the afternoon. Gerry Blakes had 16 points and 4 rebounds and while Eric Jacobsen played solid defense and didn't stuff the stat sheet, he also contributed 5 blocks and 8 rebounds.
"One thing about Eric is it's never about him," head coach Herb Sendek said. "It's never woe is me, he's 100 percent team centered. With Eric it's 'my team needs me'."
As the Sun Devils figured out their roles this season, they continued to improve. The emergence of Savon Goodman only helped their cause. Tra Holder became the go-to point guard while Blakes found a spot at 2-guard and McKissic came into his own at forward.
Now they'll try and take their talents into a pressure packed neutral site in the Pac-12 Tournament and try to play spoiler to get into the big dance.
"It was just growing pains," McKissic said. "Hopefully we've got that out of the way and now we're ready to go and win four."
ASU will next take the floor in Las Vegas next Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. The Sun Devils will be either a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. A victory by Stanford over Arizona Saturday makes the Sun Devils the No. 6 seed, if Arizona beats Stanford, ASU will be the No. 5 seed.
Update: ASU officially receives the 5th seed with the Arizona win over Stanford