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ASU Basketball: Justice’s leadership, selflessness and big shots highlight career night in win over USC

“He’s so much more than that.”

NCAA Basketball: Southern California at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

You know it if you’ve watched Arizona State men’s basketball this season—Size has been an issue for the Sun Devils.

The challenge has led to extended time on the floor ASU’s starting unit, notably guard Kodi Justice, who more often than not represents the team’s “size” alongside forward Obinna Oleka, manning what would be considered the four and five spots in Bobby Hurley’s four-guard lineup.

Justice hasn’t shied away from a more physically-demanding role, and a bandage protecting a stitched area over his left eyebrow maybe best symbolizes his mentality.

“I’m a gamer,” he said. “It is what it is.”

“He fights,” Hurley says of Justice, “he’s got the energy, he doesn’t get tired too often. The trust is there.”

The junior guard has been asked to essentially play out of position on the defensive end, and defend players much larger than him, but it hasn’t limited him offensively.

Justice poured in a career-high 22 points, going 6-for-9 from 3-point range to help lift ASU over USC in a come-from-behind, 83-82 win on Sunday night. He started the game hot, scoring 12 points amidst going a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc to vault the Sun Devils to an early 28-19 lead.

When asked if he was feeling good early, Justice replied, “A little, I’m not gonna lie.”

He said he knew he was really rolling when he followed his fourth first-half triple with a no-look, behind-the-head assist.

“I got the crowd going,” he said, grinning. “It was just a great feeling.”

Aside from the 3-point barrage, Justice made several key plays, some overlooked in the final stat column.

What will show up: A charge he drew with 7:06 left in the first half; a midrange jumper which answered a 9-2 run by USC to tie the game at 61 with 11 minutes left; a steal (officially credited to Shannon Evans II in the statbook) leading to a crowd-stirring alley-oop; and his two rebounds in the final minute of the game, one leading to a layup by Holder, and the other resulting in his last 3-pointer of the night, drawing ASU within one point with 15 seconds left.

“Kodi was awesome,” Hurley said. “I’m glad that he enjoyed it. I enjoyed it, too.”

What won’t show up in the stat sheet is Justice’s work on the defensive end. Against the Trojans, the 6-foot-5, 190-pound guard often found himself matched up against 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward Bennie Boatwright.

Defending opponents’ big men is a challenge he’s been asked to endure for a majority of the season, however, instead of working around the task, he faces it head on.

“Coach asks me to do it, so that’s what I’m gonna do,” he said. “I think anyone on this team would do the same thing, because we’re so unselfish as a team, and willing to sacrifice trying to figure out ways to win.”

Hurley says this selfless contribution on the defensive end is what the second-year coach appreciates outside of Justice’s 3-point shooting ability.

“He’s so much more than that,” Hurley said. “He’s got so much heart and plays with great communication. He’s like the anchor for us communication-wise on the floor, and he’s playing against guys that are like foot bigger than him—I mean, not that much— but like a half-foot bigger than him, and he’s battling and fighting and scrapping.”

Without prompt, Justice says on-floor communication is a facet of the game he puts high emphasis on.

“You always gotta worry about everybody else, so I try to get out of myself, and worry and make sure (teammates are) alright, that they know the defensive coverage, and what we’re doing and everything,” he said. “It’s making sure everyone knows what we need to do to execute because any mistake can put the game out (of reach).”

The Sun Devils needed every bit of his leadership during their epic rally Sunday. Down by 10 points with three minutes left, it was Justice’s confidence which played a crucial part in ASU completing the comeback.

“Down 10, I’m a confident player, and I’m not worried that we can’t come back,” Justice said. “We kept making plays, and the lead just dwindled fast.

“We’re all just trying to do anything to figure out a way to win.”

As for his offensive performance, Justice’s shooting made the difference, and his confidence in his ability couldn’t be more apparent.

“If I feel like I’m open inside of halfcourt, I feel like I can make it,” Justice said.

His teammates are sure of it, too.

“You can’t describe it,” junior point guard Tra Holder said of Justice’s shooting prowess. “I wish I could shoot like him.”

Whether it’s his knack for coming up with big baskets, or his communication on the defensive end, Justice is a player whose growing skill and tenacity has been a bright spot throughout the season for ASU.

“Tough guy, man,” says Hurley. “I love coaching Kodi.”