Just three days removed from an embarrassing loss against California, the Arizona State Sun Devils had two choices in Saturday night’s game against the Stanford Cardinal.
They could have rolled over, still reeling from their worst offensive performance in the Bobby Hurley era, or fight back and try to salvage a home split against the Bay Area schools.
Arizona State (12-14, 5-8 Pac-12) chose the latter, putting together a furious late rally to top Stanford, 75-69 on Saturday.
“That was an amazing finish,” said Hurley after the win. “I’m so proud of my team and the heart that they showed. I thought that was a great game to be a part of.”
Senior transfer Torian Graham had the best game of anyone on this night, knocking down a pair of late three-pointers to cap a 24-point performance. Three other Sun Devils - Tra Holder, Kodi Justice, and Obinna Oleka - would eventually finish the night in double figures as well.
“I went 0-for-9 from the three-point line in our last game,” Graham said when asked about his outing. “So I just want to thank my coaches and teammates for having faith in me. Sometimes they have more faith than I have in myself.”
In a sharp contrast to Wednesday night’s pitiful shooting performance, Graham and company came out of the gates red-hot from outside. The team knocked down four straight three-pointers before four minutes had even elapsed, staking them to an early 12-7 advantage.
Eventually Arizona State regressed back to the mean, however, cooling off as Stanford (12-13, 4-9) tightened up its zone defense. A 12-3 run ultimately gave the Cardinal a two-point advantage with nine and a half minutes remaining in the first half, and while the lead exchanged hands a few times in the closing minutes, the Sun Devils entered the locker room trailing 33-32.
The visitors from the Bay came out and immediately went to work on extending that advantage, taking a 46-38 lead less than six minutes into the second stanza.
And while the Maroon and Gold were able to whittle that margin down to three, things began to look bleak when a wide-open layup for Reid Travis made the score 56-47 with nine minutes to play. That run forced a quick timeout from Hurley - a timeout that would ultimately serve as a pivotal turning point.
“I just thought we were having some lapses on defense,” said Hurley when asked about the timeout. “We were breaking down in transition and they were scoring easily at the basket. There was a period there where we got tested, and the question was could we push through this and do what we needed to. We ended up getting the answer we hoped for.”
It took some time, but Hurley’s team battled all the way back.
A 13-4 spurt tied the game up at 60-60, but Arizona State would be tested yet again when Stanford regained the lead at 67-63.
That’s when the Sun Devils shifted into a different gear, putting together their best 76 seconds of the year to emerge with a big come-from-behind win.
The run started when Graham hit a contested three with 1:16 remaining, pulling his team to within 67-66. Cardinal guard Robert Cartwright then answered on the other end with a clutch pull-up jumper, but that would be their final basket of the evening.
The hosts closed the contest with nine unanswered points, forcing two key turnovers and a pair of missed three-pointers to survive for a 75-69 victory.
“The guys played like this was the last game of their lives,” Hurley would say after. “We weren't perfect, but the spirit was there."
Against the bottom half of the Pac-12 this year, sometimes spirit is all you need to come out on top.
And in a season in which the Sun Devils have lost many games in many different ways, they will certainly take this result and run with it.