In the first game after the worst offensive performance for Arizona State in several decades, most of the roster was due for a redemptive performance. On Sunday in the Pacific Northwest against the Oregon Ducks (5-4, 0-1 Pac-12), multiple Sun Devils (3-6, 1-1 Pac-12) delivered in the closing stages of a 69-67 win.
As the season is growing past its opening games, the roles of this team are beginning to become more clear. DJ Horne is one of the best pure shooters Sun Devil coach Bobby Hurley has had in Tempe, and without his game-high 23 points and six rebounds on Sunday, this game would be in the books as a loss.
Jalen Graham has yet to replicate the breakout form he displayed during the latter stages of last season, but on Sunday, he reversed the narrative of his season and finished with eight points on 3 for 3 shooting from the field.
With the Sun Devils down 56-54, Graham blocked a floater from Oregon guard Will Richardson in the last seconds of the shot clock. A few sequences later, facing the same points deficit of two, Graham was fouled in the lane and sent to the free throw line, where a one-and-one awaited.
The sub-30 percent free throw shooter made the front end to make the score 58-57, but his capricious shot failed him on the back end, and Oregon cashed in two free throws on the next possession to put the Sun Devils on thin ice with 29 seconds left.
Out of a timeout, and needing three points, Hurley drew up a set play, one of the few the Sun Devils ran on Sunday. The ball wound its way into the hands of guard Jay Heath. His corner 3-pointer missed, but there was Graham, scrambling to the secure the offensive rebound, one of four he had on the day.
His hustle won the Sun Devils another possession, and a last chance, to even the score. Graham wheeled around and fired a jump-pass from the baseline to Horne at the top of the key. Horne drilled the 3-pointer to tie the game. It was not just exhilarating, it was relieving for a team that has been searching for a moment to hang their hat on.
In overtime, it was Heath’s chance for redemption.
With the Sun Devils trailing 67-66, Marreon Jackson drove the baseline, and weaved a pass over to Horne, who deferred to Heath, at that point 3 for 5 on 3-pointers.
Heath splashed the nylon. The Sun Devils held on for the final Oregon possession, and for the first time since November 15, they have won a basketball game.
As the horn sounded, the Sun Devils celebrated as if a national championship had just been won. But there was no confetti on this day, just an abundance of pride for a team that had its effort and cohesion questioned after their disastrous 51-29 loss to Washington State on Wednesday.
Sure, there are things to clean up. Hurley and his staff will review the film from today and continue to come up with solutions for the biggest problems. The team entered today ranked 185th in assists per game and 144th in turnovers per game. If those rankings hold true throughout the rest of the season, the Sun Devils will continue to lose more than they win.
On Sunday, there were flashes of what this team could look like, and perhaps should look like, going forward. Outside of getting boat raced Loyola Chicago and surrendering 92 points to Syracuse, the Sun Devils have played impenetrable defense for stretches this season.
That continued today. Oregon shot 3 for 8 in overtime, and 0 for 3 on its most consequential shots. Arizona State held the Ducks to 18 percent from the 3-point line and 41 percent from the field.
Outside of Horne, Heath added 14 points off the bench. Forward Kimani Lawrence added 13 points and equaled Horne with six rebounds to lead the team.
The Sun Devils have been battling some demons this season. Inside the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, an arena the program had never won in entering the game they exorcised them.
Arizona State will return home to face cross-town rival Grand Canyon University on Thursday evening.