For the first 37 minutes of the top 25 matchup in Tempe, the No. 1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks looked as if they were going to leave Wells Fargo Arena still undefeated. However, Rob Edwards and Remy Martin had other plans up their sleeves.
The guard duo scored the final seven points for No. 18 Arizona State (9-2), and paved the way for the 80-76 upset of Kansas (10-1) on Saturday.
Martin hit one of his signature mid-range pull up jumpers to bring the Sun Devils within one. Edwards, coming off his best game of the season in a loss to Vanderbilt, hit his third three-pointer of the game with 2:23 left to give ASU their first lead of the night.
“That’s how we practice, we both hit big shots at practice. We just let it translate to the game, we didn’t really think about them being number one. We just take it as another game,” Edwards said.
In between the guards’ buckets, Martin forced a Kansas turnover from junior forward Dedric Lawson. Lawson tied the game with a pair of free throws after Edwards’ three, to finish with a game-high 30 points. Martin followed with another one of his pull up jumpers to give ASU the lead for good. Edwards then ran down a ball that Kansas senior guard Lagerald Vick threw away.
Edwards made both of his free throws after the in-bounds pass. Kansas didn’t put a shot up afterwards. Just seconds after the final buzzer, the stunned Jayhawks were surrounded by a ASU student section that had stormed the court in Tempe.
Martin was one of two returners that had a significant role in last year’s 95-85 win in Lawrence over the Jayhawks (Sophomore forward Romello White being the other). He compared the feeling of the two upsets:
“This year’s win was just a little bit sweeter for me, just because the adversity,” he said. “Last year’s team we were hitting shots like crazy, from damn near half court line, it was just unconscious. It was kinda like surreal, this year was more focus runs, trying to figure out the game.”
Part of that adversity Martin spoke about was the search in how to stop Lawson. The transfer from Memphis, Lawson finished 12-of-15 from the field. He had 18 points at halftime and gave head coach Bobby Hurley headaches. Hurley and the Sun Devils made the adjustment of double teaming the 6-foot-9 forward. That dared the Jayhawks to have someone else beat ASU in the second half.
“When you look at the stat sheet, you see the numbers and say ‘alright we did somethings well down eight, but this guy, I can’t watch this again in the second half,’” said Hurley of Lawson’s first half. “First of all it was Melo just working a little bit harder to make his catches a little bit further away and more difficult. From there we were just trying to go to him and double whenever we could. We had a designated guy to go and do that, and try and get the basketball out of his hands.”
For most of the game it didn’t look pretty for the Sun Devils. They entered the second half shooting just 29%. Multiple times, a lot of them from freshman guard Luguentz Dort, missed layups right at the rim. They got to the free throw line 32 times, but only made 20 of them to finish with a 61%.
Kansas’ largest lead only reached 12, but for ASU at times on Saturday, that looked like that was insurmountable. A week removed from coming back from 18 points down in Athens against Georgia, the Sun Devils were prepared to get back in the game.
“We’ve played really good teams already, obviously we had the deficit at Georgia. It’s tough to play on the road, both Georgia and Vandy had very good crowds,” Hurley said. “They’re as hard as working group that I’ve had, and if they didn’t work that hard they wouldn’t have the confidence to go out and do what they did tonight.”
Eleven games removed from the Shannon Evans, Tra Holder and Kodi Justice era, there are still holes in the Sun Devils’ game. Nevertheless, the Sun Devils are the frontrunners to win a Pac-12 that has struggled in non-conference play. They have two big wins against Kansas and Mississippi State, as well as two solid wins against Georgia and Utah State. They understand they could’ve won in their two losses to Nevada and Vanderbilt. They’re also very confident in themselves as Martin spoke about after the win:
“It proves a lot, proves a lot. We beat the number one team, we were right there with Nevada, just kind of gave it away,” he said. “It shows that we could potentially be the best team in the country. We beat great teams, we have the abilities, we have the players, the coaching staff, the people. Everything about ASU is now starting to feel like it’s supposed to be.”
The energy at Wells Fargo Arena was incredible. “The Bank,” the nickname it was given last season, was filled to max capacity, Sun Devil fans and a large crowd of blue from the Kansas supporters filled the seats in Tempe. The student section on Christmas break was flooded with students, who decided to camp outside the arena to get in, received a large thank you from Martin.
Tempe may no longer be a baseball town. December 22, 2018 will be a night to remember for Sun Devil fans and it’ll be one for Bobby Hurley, who called his team’s 80-76 win, “one of the great sport moments of my life,” but surely he isn’t the only one.