The madness of March has swept over the Pac-12 Tournament once again, as despite holding a seemingly insurmountable 14-point lead with three minutes to play, the Arizona State Sun Devils saw their season end at the buzzer as Stanford completed a shocking comeback with a 71-70 victory.
Following their 65-56 victory over the Cardinal (16-15, 8-12) just last week on senior night, Arizona State (14-17, 10-10) was widely expected to continue its recent hot stretch and earn another shot at second-ranked Arizona in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
And if you were to look at the stat sheet, you would think it would be the Sun Devils taking the court at 1 P.M. MST at the T-Mobile Arena for the third battle of the Territorial Cup in 2022.
ASU’s offensive output surprisingly came from beyond the arc today as the Sun Devils nailed 15 three-pointers on 28 attempts to tie the Pac-12 Tournament record for team conversions from deep in a game. Stanford coach Jerod Haase praised the team’s accuracy from range postgame.
“They shot the heck out of it,” Haase said.
Guard play, which had been a massive issue earlier in the season, was stellar as Marreon Jackson, Jay Heath and D.J. Horne combined for 12 of the Sun Devils' threes and 47 of their total 70 points.
Breakout forward Jalen Graham couldn’t find his rhythm in the paint, as the Stanford zone defense took away the middle while also getting the junior into foul trouble on the other end, ending with four on the day.
The Sun Devils' defense was as advertised throughout the first half as a pressurized defense forced seven turnovers out of the Cardinal, which ASU converted into nine points on the other end.
Bobby Hurley’s defense was successful in containing two of Stanford’s premier scorers as Pac-12 freshman of the year Harrison Ingram was ineffective throughout the game for as the all-conference honorable mention went just 2-7 from the field while double-digit scorer Jaiden Delaire managed just one make from the field on five attempts.
However, despite their efforts on Ingram and Delaire, Arizona State had no answer for Stanford's Spencer Jones. The junior forward was the only spark of life for the Cardinal in the first half as he was responsible for 11 of the team’s 27 points at the break.
Although he shot less efficiently in the second half, Jones still totaled 15 points to reach a season-high 26 points. His presence was also felt down low with six rebounds as Jones kept Jalen Graham from filling the box score throughout the game.
Even with the explosion of Jones, ASU seemingly had this game in its grasp as a Kimani Lawrence one-hand-jam on Jones with three minutes to play pushed the ASU lead to 14, and considering how the defense had played up to that point, Stanford fans began to foresee their demise.
But with their hopes on life support, Jerod Haase’s team roared back and scored 11 unanswered points, all coming on lay-ups down low or from the free-throw line. The lackadaisical defensive effort spread to the other end of the court for the Devils as after Lawrence’s dunk, ASU did not make a single field goal for the rest of the game.
Lawrence said himself after the game “We started playing the score,” in reference to the final minutes in which the Sun Devils led 69-55 at one point.
After raining in threes throughout the half, the only score ASU could put together down the stretch came on a Marreon Jackson free throw. Besides that, there was nothing free from the line for Arizona State as they missed four of their last five from the stripe.
The culmination of ASU’s collapse came in the final seconds as Jalen Graham couldn’t finish his patented hook shot, which gave Stanford the ball with nine seconds to play. Without any timeouts, the Cardinal pushed up the floor where James Keefe, who had shot 6-7 on the day, recovered a loose ball and banked in the game-winner from the free-throw line as the buzzer sounded.
Rather than advancing to the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal, the Sun Devils' season comes to an end in one of the most fitting ways possible. A team that had been inconsistent all year sees its road end in a game where they led for 37 minutes. “We were a total mess for the last three minutes,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “Anyone could tell you that.”
Despite finishing their second consecutive season with a losing record, the wide expectation is that Hurley, who has been at the helm of ASU since 2015, is not in danger of losing his job. With key pieces Marreon Jackson and Kimani Lawrence leaving Tempe after this year, scrutinous eyes will be on Hurley as ASU’s drought of an NCAA tournament victory reaches an unlucky 13 years.