The shot clock was off. Tie game.
Cool, calm and collected, Tra Holder dribbled the ball up the court slowly against USC (17-8, 8-4 Pac-12). Most of the 12,377 on hand figured head coach Bobby Hurley would take a timeout to draw up a play. He didn’t, citing Coach K as basis for the tactic.
“I’ve been in a lot of those situations and there have been times that I know that my coach that I played for at Duke in those situations would not want to give the opponent an opportunity to make a defensive adjustment,” Hurley said.
Holder sat at the top of the key for a few seconds. The senior surveyed the floor, passing the ball from hand-to-hand as fellow Bob Cousey Award finalist Jordan McLaughlin tried to stay in front of a looming Romello White screen.
White came up top and Holder darted to his left, throwing a little shake-and-bake on McLaughlin before 6-foot-11 Chimezie Metu took on the unforgiving role of guarding the 6-foot-1 Holder.
The guard got past the free throw line with Metu still on his hip. He was on a path for the baseline before he rose up from about seven feet out. Metu’s hand couldn’t get up in time as Holder, who was falling to the left as he jumped, let go of the ball.
The floater kissed the glass — and as Shannon Evans and Holder joked about after ASU’s 80-78 victory — cash.
“I wanted to take the last shot, I mean, or close to the last shot,” Holder said. “Me and Shannon had missed some floaters that we were capable of making earlier in the game, so when I made that one it just makes up for all of it.”
USC couldn’t get a shot off with the 1.4 second that was remaining and for the first time all season, the Sun Devils won the first game of a Pac-12 weekend series.
The game will be remembered for Holder’s shot, and it should. But down seven with 2:28 to play, the Sun Devils defense came alive — keeping the Trojans getting another basket.
Evans, who finished with 21 points including five 3’s, said that the crowd energy made them want to “play defense harder.”
Hurley confirmed that notion.
“They need it,” he said. “When you exert that type of energy, that type of effort to come back, you just need any edge you can get. It was inspiring.”
Before that 2:28 mark hit, USC’s Bennie Boatwright and Nick Rakocevic were torching ASU from beyond the arc and in the paint, respectively. The scoring halt did come from the Devils’ increased defensive intensity, but the Trojans also missed multiple open shots.
Boatwright had an opportunity to ice the game with a 3, but as the crowd got louder, he missed his mark and left the door wide-open for an ASU team that only needed a crack.
As the metaphorical clock was nearing the eleventh hour on the Devils’ season, the literal one was well past it.
The 9:00 P.M. MST start isn’t always fun. The final horn sounded at 11:11 P.M., but as Hurley jokingly pointed out, there probably weren’t many people watching.
“Probably half of the country didn’t see it,” Hurley said. “It was a great game, great finish, most people have rolled over two or three times by now.”
The win, however late it may have came, gets Arizona State (18-6, 6-6) back to .500 in Pac-12 play and keeps them inside of the bracket (for now).
To Evans, that means something.
“It does because people are saying we’re a bubble team now,” Evans said. “So every game right now is crucial. The end goal is to play in the Tournament in March, that’s everybody’s goal.
“I know that we’re at .500 in conference and we did great out of conference or whatever, but nothing matters no more. It’s game by game. That’s how we’re taking it.”