LOS ANGELES — The Arizona State Sun Devils (8-0) led by as much as 18 points before St. John’s (8-2) came back to cut the score to one, 71-70, with just over two minutes left in the game.
A clutch three-pointer from Kodi Justice with 1:30 then sparked an 11-0 run that sent the Sun Devils into victory formation.
ASU survived, winning 82-70, in the Staples Center on Friday night.
“We made it closer than it probably should’ve been,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “They’re really reflective of New York. You know, tough kids, tough, play hard, aren’t intimidated by anything.”
Hurley, the Jersey City, New Jersey native, said he knew the battle would last 40 minutes even when ASU led by double digits. The Sun Devils and Red Storm combined for 45 fouls, and 27 of them came from St. John’s.
“Every shot I put up they challenged me,” Romello White said. “Sometimes, I thought they fouled me, and I wasn’t getting fouled, so I had to go stronger.”
White was the difference for ASU, and St. John’s forward Marvin Clark even admitted it postgame.
One board away from his fourth double-double, White put up 22 points and nine rebounds. Shannon Evans had 18 points, six rebounds and six assists, and Kodi Justice scored 15.
Vitaliy Shibel had a single-game career high 11 points after going 3-for-3 from beyond the arc to start the game.
For St. John’s, Clark had 18 points and seven rebounds, and Tariq Owens added 17 and handled five boards.
While Arizona State’s number one target, Shamorie Ponds, led the Red Storm with 19 points, he took 10 more shots on anyone, making just six of 23.
“Considering how talented he (Ponds) is, our guards, particularly Shannon, who was matched up with him a lot, did a very good job,” Hurley said. “Clark had a really nice game. Really shot it well for them. We had to give up something and wanted to do a good job on Ponds.”
Tra Holder, who leads the team, averaging 22.1 points per game, scored a season-low seven points. In fact, it was his first game in single digits all season, but fellow senior guards Justice and Evans made up for his absence.
Hurley applauded his trio of seniors. However, he gave credit to White where it was due. He’s transformed the 2017-18 Sun Devils.
“Shannon and Tra are NBA guards and Kodi would have a chance at it at some point. Kodi is a late blooming player.” Hurley said. “It would have been easier on them and they could show the college basketball world what they could do if they had a little bit of a presence on the interior and having Romello down there has been a game changer.”
The Sun Devils came into Friday fourth in the nation, averaging 92.7 points per game, third in the nation with a .531 field goal percentage and broke a school record, scoring 90 or more points in six straight contests to start the season.
Hurley could care less.
“That stuff is great and I’m happy for the guys to showcase that... But I think it’s the will to win and the toughness we’ve showed,” Hurley said. “Down nine in the second half verse Kansas State, down 15 verse Xavier in the first half, down at halftime to San Diego State, and then this game.
“Big lead, then lost it all, but still figured out a way to win in the last three minutes, so the guys are focused on winning and have the experience to make big plays.”
Hurley said he’s taking an “NCAA Tournament” type approach, going up against St. John’s, then No. 2 Kansas in two days.
Ohio State transfer Mickey Mitchell will make his debut at Phog Allen Fieldhouse against the Jayhawks who were upset by Washington on Wednesday.
ASU has big neutral site wins over Kansas State, SDSU, Xavier and now St. John’s, but has yet to earn a true road win. The Sun Devils and Jayhawks collide at 12 p.m. MT in Lawrence.
“They’ve had some stiff, tough practices and I’m sure Bill Self has motivated them,” Hurley said. “We have to go to one of the most difficult places to play in college basketball.”