LAS VEGAS — No one would have blamed them if they had called it quits.
The Arizona State Sun Devils led Wednesday afternoon’s Pac-12 Tournament opener for nearly all of the final 44 minutes of regulation, finally faltering when the Stanford Cardinal sent the game to overtime with a long jump shot on their final possession of the second half.
Nevertheless, Arizona State (15-17) persevered.
Not ready to end its season just yet, the team found a new gear in the additional five-minute period, outscoring the tournament’s nine-seed 17-7 to lock up a 98-88 victory.
The win was the program’s first in the conference tournament since the 2013 season and clinched a quarterfinal meeting with top-seeded Oregon.
“They (Stanford) made some big plays to get it to overtime,” said head coach Bobby Hurley after the win. “But you know, that shows the character and the determination of my team to respond and be able to keep playing well enough to put them away. It was a tribute to how It was a tribute to how they've been competing and battling this whole Pac-12 season.”
Pushing to extend his collegiate career at least one game further, senior Obinna Oleka led all scorers with 27 points on Wednesday. All five Sun Devil starters finished the day in double figures, but the team ended up with only two bench points in the 45 minute contest.
“We’ll see if we have our starters score 96 out of 98 points again tomorrow,” Hurley said. “I’d be happy if they could do that again. That would be great.”
Both teams started this day red-hot offensively, which came as somewhat of a surprise for a game that tipped off at noon local time in an arena that neither team had played in before.
It was Arizona State who stayed hot, however, taking the lead for good on a Tra Holder jumper with 14 minutes and change remaining in the opening half. Holder and company finished the first stanza halfway to the century mark, taking a 50-42 advantage into the locker rooms.
The Sun Devils continued playing an inspired brand of basketball for the majority of the second half, and the Cardinal (14-17) never got closer than within six points until the final six minutes of the half. That’s when the Maroon and Gold finally started to wear down and go cold, a fate that would ultimately cost them when they went scoreless through the final 3:47 of regulation.
“I felt like we had the emotion going our way going into that overtime period,” said Stanford forward Michael Humphrey, who finished the day with 18 points and nine rebounds.
The emotion and momentum completely belonged to the Cardinal, who forced the extra five minutes after Humphrey knocked down a deep two-pointer to beat an expiring shot clock.
But instead of rolling over and playing out the string on the final minutes of the season, Hurley’s team went to work.
Oleka started the extra session with a layup to give Arizona State an 83-81 lead, and the team would go on to make a three-pointer on each of its next three trips down the floor. That made the score 92-84 with two and a half minutes remaining, allowing the Maroon and Gold to cruise to a 98-88 win.
“Coach Hurley trusts us and we have the same amount of trust in him,” senior Torian Graham said in the locker room after the victory. “I wish we could have won in regulation, but he knew we could get it done and so did we.”
Indeed, the Sun Devils did just enough to get it done on Wednesday.
And in a tournament where all that matters is surviving and advancing, they’ll take that result and run with it.