This article was contributed by Jesse Borek
The defining moment of the year may end up being Jordan Bachynski’s second consecutive game-sealing block, that was capped off by a flush on the other end by Jahii Carson. In the disarray that was to come, Carson nearly could have been assessed a technical foul for hanging on to the rim, but with the stampede of the student section oncoming, the eyes of the officials were looking elsewhere. In hindsight, Carson very easily could have just easily dribbled the clock out and avoided any controversy, but after a stressful night shooting the ball, and being hounded by opposing point guard T.J. McConnell, the temptation of a free two points was just too much to pass up.
Regardless of the glaring offensive execution issues, the foremost shortcoming has become a common denominator in the last few games…the Sun Devils have been unable to convert from the free throw line. On a night where possessions were so precious, the team was completely inept at putting the game on ice when they had the chance. Luckily, so were the Wildcats. ASU shot a paltry 57.7% (15-26), but Arizona managed only a meager 53.3% (16-30).
The Sun Devils let golden opportunities fall by the wayside at the conclusion of both regulation and the first overtime period, before coming up with season-defining defensive stops that kept the game moving forward.
On paper, ASU was mightily overmatched with freshman sensation Aaron Gordon and perennial PAC-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson leading the way for the Wildcats, but as the game wore on, each team’s deficiencies seemed to mirror one another.
Arizona’s calling card all season has been their dynamic ability to hold opponents down on the offensive end, allowing just enough space on the scoreboard for their offense to shine through. Granted, they are learning to play without forward Brandon Ashley, who contributed a large chunk of minutes, and was a proverbial glue guy for the entire unit.
The comparisons at the free throw line have already been drawn, but the Wildcats also mirrored the Sun Devils in bench production and three point shooting on the evening. For a team that is severely lacking depth such as ASU, bench points can be crucial to their ultimate success. On this evening, they received a whopping total of five, all coming from former walk-on, Bo Barnes. Conversely, the Wildcats seemed unwilling to trust anyone outside of their core starting five on this night, as the bench did not so much as make a shot, going 0-for-8 from the field combined, and playing only 22 minutes of a double overtime affair. After starting the game 1-for-8 from beyond the three-point line, things would not get better for the favored Wildcats as they ultimately wound up at 4-for-16, an underwhelming 25%.
As the colorful Bill Walton so emphatically alluded to on the broadcast, “How can you plan on winning a championship if you can’t make free throws?” At the time, it could have been construed as another silly criticism out of the legendary player, not-so-phenomenal broadcaster’s mouth, but he did bring up a valid point. This was nothing new for Arizona, and in spite of their phenomenal defense, they will struggle in the NCAA Tournament if they can’t convert from the free throw stripe.
In what may be the best news surrounding this entire event, the Sun Devils just defeated a team that coming into the game, was regarded as a legitimate Final Four contender. Now, there would be no reason to expect such a boisterous home crowd advantage at any point during the NCAA Tournament, but with the “942 Crew” out in full swing tonight, they may have just punched their ticket to be dancing in March.
For the majority of the season, it has been common knowledge that Jahii Carson is the go-to man down the stretch, capable of catching fire at any moment. That type of player coming March can not only make himself some money, but his university some fame. Over the course of the year though, Jermaine Marshall has emerged as a player capable of “filling it up,” to say the least. With two cold-blooded daggers late in the second overtime to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, it is difficult to imagine where the Sun Devils would be without the contributions of the graduate transfer from Penn State. He finished the night with 29 points, even as one of the PAC-12’s finest swingmen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, defended him.
From here on out, the Sun Devils may not face a better opponent all season long. Certainly no one else in the PAC-12 can match the intensity of the Wildcats, and after such a dramatic victory on a national stage tonight, it will be nearly impossible to deny Herb Sendek’s club a ticket to the dance this year.
There are six remaining games on the regular season slate for the Sun Devils, with the next being Wednesday night in Boulder, Colorado. At 9 o’clock, ASU (19-6, 8-4) will look to continue its winning ways when they lock up with the Colorado Buffaloes (18-7, 7-5), who are still attempting to find their identity amidst the loss of their leading scorer, Spencer Dinwiddie.
The victory last evening all but punched the Sun Devils ticket to March Madness. Now, the mission is to attain as high of a seed as possible, and continue to make the rest of the country Fear the Fork.