The Arizona State Sun Devils took down the No. 23 ranked USC Trojans 74-67 Friday night in Wells Fargo Arena backed by shutdown defense.
"It's a big win for us at this point in the season," ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. "I thought our defense was unbelievable throughout really our entire game, the way we guarded the three-point line and forced some turnovers, our activity was really good and to hold them to 67 [points] is a challenge because they can really score."
The Sun Devils (14-11, 4-8 Pac-12) came out fast, diving for loose balls behind guard Tra Holder, who snagged the first offensive board of the night for a put-back that kick started the Sun Devil scoring.
"We have to play with great energy, we gotta scrap and claw and commit ourselves to playing defense like we did tonight and then we'll be in every game," Hurley said.
ASU and USC (18-6, 7-4 Pac-12) traded the lead through the first half, and were slow to put the points on the board. Seven minutes into the game, the score was knotted up at 8 with both teams sneaking through the lanes.
Both teams also suffered from turnovers, seven for ASU and 11 for USC at half, but ASU made up for it with its scrappiness on the boards and with their ability to hold the Trojans to just 2-for-11 from the 3-point line.
ASU had three times as many rebounds on the offensive glass, collecting four second-chance points on 11 points off turnovers.
The Sun Devils were hot from the line early, but this caused them to rely on the outside shot. ASU didn't hesitate to shoot from behind the arc, 15 attempts at half, while USC took advantage on the inside. With no single player yet in double figures, the Trojans' points in the paint (20) kept them in the game despite ASU's turnover advantage.
ASU diminished its first half turnovers woes in a big way Friday and only fouled twice, but was unable to cash in at the charity stripe on the other end.
The Sun Devils shot an abysmal 14 percent from the free-point line in the first half.
"There were a couple that were sketchy in terms of shot selection," Hurley said. "But I thought some of them were open and if you are open then you have to take them and I think that we're capable of making them. Our defense just held us in it. I felt great at halftime after the way we played offense, our shooting percentages, our free-throw shooting percentages, our turnovers and to have it a one-possession I told the guys we're going to get this done. "
Sloppy time management and two shot-clock violations momentarily deflated the Sun Devil squad but it was an Obinna Oleka slam with twelve minutes left in the half pumped a little air into the Arena. Guard Tra Holder took over from there, finding his stroke along the three-point line.
With 7:45 to go in the half ASU led the Trojans 17-16, but couldn't maintain when USC's shots from the field started to fall and the Sun Devils made a pair of empty trips up the floor. A 6-0 run over a two-minute span put the Trojans back up 26-21 but again it was the offensive board advantage that turned things back in the Sun Devils' favor.
Still, the Trojans took the lead going into the half 30-27.
"We had talked about that we couldn't afford to give them multiple cracks at it, if it was on the floor we needed to get it, if the ball's bouncing in the paint we need to secure it because they are very talented on offense so giving them multiple possessions on offense would've hurt us," Hurley said.
Holder came out on fire in the second half after a quick three from guard Gerry Blakes knotted things up at 30. Uncontested from the corner, Holder was nothing but net, only to come charging down the floor for another to send Wells Fargo into a frenzy.
However, no matter how much one team pushed their opponent away, the other team found some way to chisel their way back in.
With three minutes in regulation, ASU loosely held a four point lead until forward Savon Goodman made a big move down low for a reverse lay-up with Holder cashing in from way out after a Blakes offensive board to push the lead to nine.
"I'm really proud of Savon and happy with his effort," Hurley said. "I had a feeling he was sitting on a game like this, and he's had a great week of practice playing with great energy, he was the best player in practice all week so I'm not surprised he had the numbers he put up for us tonight."
This time, however, the Trojans couldn't chisel their way back in with Wells Fargo on its feet, and the Sun Devils took home another win against a ranked opponent.
Goodman finished the night with 17 points and six rebounds — numbers he said described his best game since coming back from his absence.
"I feel like this was my best energy activity," Goodman said. "Coach knew we were going to win and he said he knew I was going to have a big game, There was something about the locker room, I knew our team was going to win and we just came out and brought it to them."
Nikola Jovanovic had a monster 25 points in the losing effort, while Holder (20) and Blakes (14) finished in doubles as well as well.
"This shows our perseverance and our resilience," Blakes said. "This one was big for us and it was a pivotal moment in our season."
The Sun Devils will take on the UCLA Bruins Sunday in Wells Fargo Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ESPNU will have the broadcast.