Arizona State (7-9, 4-6 Pac-12) rocketed out of the gate, but then had to hold off a fervent charge from Oregon State (10-10, 7-7) to win 75-73 in the closing seconds Sunday night at Desert Financial Arena.
The Sun Devils senior guards, Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge Jr., led the way with spectacular offensive performances in a first half where the team thoroughly dominated, despite missing a bounty of players for the second straight game.
Martin showed his elite quickness from the moment the ball was tipped off, and was able to get to the line 11 times in the first half. As a team, the Sun Devils attempted 20 first half free-throws, which allowed them to seize a 41-31 halftime advantage over the Beavers.
Defensively, ASU was incredibly active in the first 20 minutes, and it showed up on the stat sheet.
Both Verge and sophomore guard Jaelen House combined for four steals in the first half, as the Beavers stumbled their way into 11 turnovers before heading into the locker room.
“I thought our pressure affected them. We were able to get a couple of steals,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game. “Remy did, House did, Verge did, and they were turned into layups. That really fueled what we did in the first half.”
Despite the fast start, Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle and his staff made smart adjustments at halftime, and it showed up in the second half.
A flustered Beaver offense suddenly became an assertive one as they took the fight to an undermanned Sun Devil frontcourt, resulting in serious foul trouble for the Devils down the stretch.
Consequently, the Beavers cut that 1-point halftime deficit all the way down to a tie game with 2:02 remaining. Just like in Corvallis about a month ago, a game that the Beavers won in the closing seconds, it was the combination of Ethan Thompson and Jarod Lucas that propelled Oregon State.
Thompson finished his night with 18 points, 12 of them coming in the second half. Lucas added 15, as well as four three-pointers. Like his backcourt running mate, Lucas also scored a majority of his points in the second half.
However, with the game in the balance, Martin led a late response, sparked by his clutch three-pointer in the final minute, which allowed ASU to recapture an advantage they wouldn’t let go of.
Much of the credit for this victory will go to Martin, who finished his night with 23 points and four assists and Verge, who along with his two steals, put together a nice stat sheet of 15 points and four assists of his own.
Those two proved once again the success of this team depends primarily on their production, but it the supplemental play of Jalen Graham and Holland Woods is what pushed the Sun Devils over the top Sunday night.
Graham finished his night tying his season-high of 14 points, which came on an incredibly efficient 70 percent from the field. Woods knocked down two three-pointers and got to the free-throw line late to ice the game for ASU.
JALEN GRAHAM OVER THE TOP.— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) February 15, 2021
ESPN 2 pic.twitter.com/Ls2PUJflSZ
With the victory tonight, the Sun Devils improve to 4-6 in the Pac-12. There is still much scheduling uncertainty in the coming weeks with different in-conference programs going into, in the midst of, or just exiting COVID-19 protocols, but the Devils are currently scheduled to play four more regular season games.
Sunday night was also the 100th win at ASU for Hurley. His effect on the program is hard to overstate. What was once a forgettable program living in the shadow of the storied ASU football and baseball programs has been transformed under Hurley’s leadership into a consistent contender for the NCAA postseason.
This season has been an incredible test of attrition for the Sun Devils, and Hurley has surely exhausted everything he thought he knew about coaching, but his legacy with ASU is secure as one of the top coaches in school history.
“It’s crazy. I didn’t even realize I’ve won that many,” Hurley said. “This place has provided so many great memories for me over the last couple of years especially. I’ll go home and think about that tonight, just all the players I’ve been blessed to have here over my six years.”
Depending on where things shake out with this entirely unpredictable pandemic, Arizona State will play next on the road against USC this Wednesday. The game is scheduled to tip off at 6 p.m. MST and will air on ESPN2.