How sweet number 20 is.
The old, proverbial magic number for an NCAA Tournament berth has been reached by the Sun Devils (20-8, 9-6) after they topped the visiting Stanford Cardinal (18-9, 9-6) by a final score of 76-64.
It is often said that basketball is a game of runs, and boy, did the Sun Devils have some runs in them this evening.
Before it looked as if Stanford had even gotten their sea legs under them, ASU jumped out to an 8-0 lead on the back of three pointers from Shaquielle McKissic and Jahii Carson. Twice more throughout the game was the same run repeated, with Herb Sendek’s bunch playing with purpose on both ends of the floor.
After the two brutal losses on the road during the “mountain trip,” wins at home against Stanford and California became imperative. From Herb Sendek to center Jordan Bachynski, the Sun Devils knew how critical this stretch of games would be with the regular season coming to an end in the upcoming week. The home crowd looked like just the right blend to spur the Devils onto victory.
On the court tonight, Jahii Carson showed why he is such a highly regarded prospect ahead of next year’s NBA Draft. The sophomore guard took over in the second half, where he scored 23 of his 26 points, and not missing a single shot after halftime.
Maybe more important than Carson’s scoring ability on this night, was his willingness to dish to open teammates. The Sun Devils have been getting open looks the past few games, they have just come up short on knocking them down. Rather than pressing and attempting to generate more shots for himself, Carson continues to rely on his teammates as an effective source of offense.
With the Battle of the Bachynski’s behind him, Jordan had his opportunity tonight to break his own single-season PAC-12 blocks record at 120, but was battling foul trouble all night. In a game against an extremely physical bunch, having virtually no contribution from Bachynski and escaping with a win is a blessing.
Where there is some cause for concern for the Devils is the frontcourt and their ability to stay out of foul trouble. Eric Jacobsen did an outstanding job tonight denying Stanford’s Stefan Nastic the ball, but when Bachynski gets into foul trouble, Jacobsen cannot be compounding the troubles by picking up fouls of his own. For the final nine minutes of the contest, they played without either Bachynski or Jacobsen on the floor, with Jon Gilling playing the de facto center spot. Granted, it worked out, but not the situation they want to be in come March.
Stanford’s Chasson Randle was corralled in the second half by foul trouble, leaving the bench in charge of supplying Stanford with some much-needed offense. Only Marcus Allen contributed, and it was a forgettable five points, which allowed ASU to win the battle of bench scoring, a key component for a team lacking depth like the Sun Devils.
In stark contrast to last week, there was nothing that Arizona State did not do well on this night. They hammered home 10 balls from long range, shot a 75% clip from the free throw stripe and shot just a hair over 55% from the field. Combine all of those elements with an intimate, but loud, home crowd and you have the recipe for a difficult environment to come in and have to win in.
Around this time of the season, tournament résumés are discussed, and even though it appears the Sun Devils have all but locked themselves up a spot barring a collapse, this victory tonight may have been the final medallion on their locker.
Up next for Arizona State are the Golden Bears from California (18-10, 9-6), who are also figured to be a member of the 68-team field come March. Earlier last night, an angry University of Arizona club, that suffered their first loss of the year the last time those two locked up, dismantled them. Cal may be reeling heading into Tempe on Saturday night, but with the playmaking ability of Justin Cobb at their disposal, they can never be counted out.