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ASU vs. USC: Hurley, Holder knew he’d sink heckler-dedicated free throws

The junior point guard stepped up in the clutch Sunday night, then dedicated his free throws to a heckler.

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

Bobby Hurley couldn’t help but smile.

The second-year coach had just watched his Arizona State unit (14-16, 7-10 Pac-12) pull off a remarkable 10-point rally with less than three minutes to play before earning an 83-82 win over USC on Sunday night at Wells Fargo Arena.

“I’m thrilled,” said Hurley, who then joked, “except probably the few weeks or days that’s just been taken off my life to go through that game and coach it.”

The former star Duke point guard witnessed his own starting point guard, Tra Holder, capture the victory by hitting a pair of go-ahead free throws with the Sun Devils down by one and only 6.9 second seconds remaining.

It’s the second time this season the junior has won a game at the line.

“Tra was clutch again, stepping up to the free-throw line with that much on the line,” Hurley said. “To go in there and make both shots, it was impressive.”

The tying and go-ahead free-throws were set up by a heady play from Holder, who reached the free-throw line after drawing contact on a last-second drive to the hoop off a feed from guard Torian Graham, who had intercepted an errant in-bound pass from USC’s Bennie Boatwright with 12 seconds to go coming out of a Trojans’ timeout.

“I was face-guarding someone, so I didn’t see it,” Holder said of the turnover. “Good pass on his part.”

Hurley said there were several different scenarios in play following the steal.

“When it’s a broken play like that, your best chance to is to do exactly what we did, which is attack off the dribble before they can really get set and know what’s going on,” he said. “We just let them know, ‘hey, we don’t need a three here, because it’s a one-point game,’ and if we got something inside the line that’s fine. Now, if they would’ve gotten the ball in, and we had to foul them, we gave them that scenario of whether they make or miss free throws the other way.”

Throughout the ensuing scene, tension circulated throughout the entire arena. Everywhere, that is, except for with Holder, at least according to him.

For Holder, these weren’t just free throws to win the game—they were a chance to stick it to a heckler who had said something earlier to the player he said stayed on his mind.

“Somebody had said something to me in the stands, and I was just ready to celebrate and kind of prove them wrong,” Holder said.

The fan was removed for his outburst. Holder declined to reveal what was said, adding, “I’m a part of the Sun Devil family, and he is, too.”

Hurley thanked the rest of the fans for their positive contribution.

“You love to have your fans support what you’re doing, and it was 99.99 percent of the fans did that today,” he said. “It was an unbelievable environment to play in.”

The congregation grew quiet once the 6-foot-1 Holder stepped up to the line. He responded by stroking the net, hitting the first to tie the game, then followed suit with the second to take the lead.

“I was in that situation before, so I knew I was going to make it after the first one,” Holder said.

Hurley said he knew the shots were going down.

“I just think he was ice cold,” Hurley said of Holder. “I had complete confidence that he was gonna step up there. He had the look in his eye. He made the first one, and he had that resilience, that toughness. I knew he was gonna make the second one.”

Moments later, Holder was celebrating on top of the scorer’s table, Hurley more or less taking in the win all the way through to his post-game press conference.

“It’s a dramatic game,” he said. “What a great feeling. We made the plays we needed to. Tra was great getting to the rim.”