The Arizona State Sun Devils made it a habit this year to play down to the wire. Of ASU’s 18 Pac-12 games, 15 were decided by fewer than 10 points, with many involving late-game heroics from ASU or their opponent.
In keeping with the trend, the Sun Devils (20-10, 8-10 Pac-12) concluded their regular season with an 84-83 loss to the Stanford Cardinal at Wells Fargo Arena Saturday, cinching an appearance in the 8-9 game Wednesday to open the Pac-12 Tournament.
Like many times this year, things started rough.
ASU trailed 21-10 just eight minutes in behind big starts from redshirt junior forward Reid Travis and freshman forward KZ Okpala.
With the help of 13 bench points, the Sun Devils clawed their way back into the game, taking just their second lead of the game at 35-33 with four minutes left in the first half.
As soon as they got the lead, though, the Sun Devils gave it right back.
A 7-0 run for Stanford ended the first half with the Cardinal up five points.
That was just the start of it.
Stanford began the second half on a 15-1 tear to extend their lead to 55-36 with 16:46 left in the game, swinging momentum all the way to the visitor bench.
“I thought the difference in the game could be as simple as our last four minutes of the first half,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “We had empty possessions where we didn’t make shots and some of them were open. And then to start the second half, we didn’t have enough energy and they were able to generate the lead they did.”
But the Sun Devils never went away.
Three Sun Devils — senior guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice — reached double-digit scoring in the second half alone, to claw ASU all the way back, tying the game on a Justice 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining.
Freshman guard Daejon Davis gave the Cardinal the lead right back at 84-82 with 42 seconds remaining. That’s when things got crazy.
With a chance to tie the game at 84, Justice stepped to the free throw line after drawing a foul.
Justice then had to foul senior guard Dorian Pickens, who had a chance to put the game on ice for the visiting Cardinal.
Junior center Josh Sharma grabbed the rebound for Stanford and went up for a layup.
On the other end, Justice got fouled going up for a layup of his, giving him an immediate chance at redemption.
After making his second attempt from the line, the Cardinal attempted to inbound the ball, but it got away and rolled out of bounds, giving ASU one more shot at a win.
Justice inbounded the ball to Evans, who drove the lane and passed to freshman Remy Martin who released a jumper as the clock ticked away.
In the final 20 seconds, five players combined to miss seven shots that could have changed the game. Instead, the Cardinal held on to win a game they tried to give away, but the Sun Devils just wouldn’t take.
“The shots didn’t fall,” Justice said. “They all felt good. It’s gonna sting, this one hurt.”
The career 74 percent free throw shooter had never missed three shots from the line in a Pac-12 game before Saturday, but his coach isn’t letting anyone pin it on his senior standout.
“Me getting a technical in a one-point game is every bit the same as Kodi missing free throws,” Hurley said. “There are so many things that go into winning and losing, you can’t just point to free throws at the end.”
In fact, both Hurley and sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell were assessed technical fouls, resulting in a combined three points for the Cardinal. But it matters not now.
Now this loss, and the regular season, are now in the rearview mirror.
Under .500 in conference, the Sun Devils must go on a run next week to feel comfortable heading into Selection Sunday. First up will be the Colorado Buffaloes, who ASU split its two matchups with, losing in Boulder before winning in Tempe. But Hurley isn’t too concerned, no matter who his guys take on.
“I love my chances with the group I have,” Hurley said. “Playing anybody that we’re going to play in the postseason in Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament.”