They fell behind again Saturday. No. 11 Arizona State’s conference season hope looked to be slipping away. Could the rankings and 12-0 start all be a fluke? Many in the arena feared the answer to that question. Those on the court, though, didn’t waiver.
“I mean we got great leadership on the team,” ASU senior guard Shannon Evans said after the Sun Devils’ 77-75 victory. “So, we just kind of answered the bell when we said ‘pick it up guys, let’s really try to wake up.”
Coming out of the locker room, ASU (14-3, 2-3 Pac-12) was lifeless. Oregon State (10-7, 2-3) started the second half hitting on all cylinders. A trio of three-pointers and five free throws paved the way as the Beavers rolled out a 15-3 run to start the half.
Arizona State has come back from deficits before. Xavier, Kansas and Vanderbilt have all fallen victim to the Devils come from behind runs, or bursts.
In Pac-12 play, players and coaches alike have been waiting for some of ASU’s non-conference fire to ignite again. And with 11:32 left on the clock Saturday, it was still dormant.
Queue the burst.
Down 57-44, the Devils lit the match. ASU went on a 11-0 run capped off when Evans drove to the hole and kicked it to the corner for wide-open Kodi Justice. Bucket.
“The Bank” erupted. The Devils still trailed 57-54, but they were closing fast.
“We fed off that tonight,” Justice said of the Wells Fargo Arena crowd. “I mean there were big plays and a three-pointer felt like six points, literally, because the crowd was so big and just things like that.”
For most teams, ASU’s rapid-fire offense would be too much. Most have gone away without much of a response, but Oregon State put up a fight.
After the 11-0 barrage, the Beavers kept their lead, increasing it to five with three and a half minutes to play.
“We have not been playing exactly the way we were earlier in the season and I know that’s going to be the case,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “So, we’ve just got to push through the tough times, and I know that we’re going to respond.”
For ASU, a second burst was needed. And if the first was just a few jabs that wounded the Beaver, the second turned out to be the knockout punch.
Evans started it off with four straight points. Remy Martin’s and-1 put the Devils up two.
Then the defining moment of the night: ASU was only up a pair with about a minute left to play.
Evans, who was in major slump to start Pac-12 play and was held scoreless in the first half, got the ball beyond the wing.
He dribbled to the top of the key. He dribbled around to the top of the key and with about three feet separating him and the three point line, he let it fly.
Nothing but net.
All on hand went into a polite chaos.
“Shannon was in attack mode,” Hurley said. “He wasn’t going to let us lose.”
Evans added: “I felt like none of us wanted us to lose. We are trying to get back on a winning streak, we’re trying to get back on the right track, things like that. I just try to come up with big plays.”
It wasn’t all pretty for the Sun Devils, though. In what seems like a repetitive theme from Pac-12 play, they again struggled down low.
But on Saturday, it wasn’t detrimental.
Just two days after being outscored in the paint by 22 against Oregon, ASU beat OSU down low 34-32, holding Beavers forward Tres Tinkle in check.
The sophomore — who averaged 18 points and seven rebounds coming into the game — was right about at his season average, scoring just 18 points and grabbing 10 boards.
A major key to winning the battle in the paint was the increased play from the freshmen forwards. Romello White (six points and six rebounds) and De’Quon Lake (11 points and six boards).
Oregon State was first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing teams to only average 68.2 points against it. For a offense that has sputtered as of late, besting that number by almost nine may be a sign that they’re playing like the team that was ranked No. 3.
Up next, the Sun Devils travel to the Bay Area with matchups against Stanford on Wednesday at 9 p.m. and California on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. MT.