(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Arizona State senior forward Shaquielle McKissic had one thing on his mind with his team trailing Pepperdine 41-36 with 14:47 remaining in the game: win.
The Sun Devils proceeded to go on a 17-1 run to take a lead they would not relinquish. Not only did the win extend ASU’s home winning streak to 14 games, but it also featured McKissic and junior center Eric Jacobsen notching career-highs in points with 22 and 20 points, respectively.
For the better part of the first half, Jacobsen was the focal point of ASU’s offense. With Pepperdine being the nation’s leader in three-point defense, the Sun Devils fed Jacobsen early and often, and he produced. Going into halftime, the 6-foot-10 junior was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field with 10 points and 4 rebounds. He would end the game just one rebound shy of a double-double.
“The guys are finding me and they’re giving me the ball,” Jacobsen said. “A lot of it has to do with, in pick-and-rolls and stuff like that, (freshman guard Tra Holder) did a great job of giving me the ball.”
Jacobsen was particularly active on the offensive glass, with seven of his nine rebounds coming on the offensive end.
“We’ve been trying really hard to play through Eric,” Sendek said. “And our guys are becoming a little bit more aware that that’s important for us to do. He’s given us every reason to do it.”
ASU still trailed Pepperdine by two points at the half, but that changed when McKissic lit fire. After a relatively quiet season offensively, McKissic seemingly willed his team to play with more energy on both ends of the floor.
“We’ve lost a lot of games in the last four minutes (of the game),” McKissic said. “So we tried to limit our mistakes and really come out aggressive and not be passive and laid-back.”
McKissic racked up 16 points and eight rebounds in the second half alone, including two thunderous dunks, ending the day with his second career double-double (22 points, 11 rebounds) and three dunks.
“I thought Shaquielle McKissic played one of his very best games as a Sun Devil today,” head coach Herb Sendek said. “I felt like, once we fell behind by seven in the second half, he was extraordinarily determined to not let us lose. On both ends of the floor, I thought he played with great heart and passion.”
Although McKissic had come into the game averaging 10.1 points per game, he felt as though he could be doing more for his team.
“I just don’t want to lose any more,” McKissic said. “I look at the stats, and I look at my free throws, and its just like I’m only taking three free throws a game or something like that, and it’s like, if I’m not taking more than 10 a game, then I feel like I let the team down.”
The two weren’t the only Sun Devils producing.
Junior guard Gerry Blakes chipped in a strong 16 points, including knocking in ASU’s first three-pointer of the game with 11:49 remaining. Pepperdine limited the Sun Devils, who have shot 41 percent from distance this season, to just 3-for-13 from beyond the arc.
“(Pepperdine) were designed to take that away from us,” Sendek said. “Up to this point this season, that’s been our greatest strength offensively, and so I was really pleased that the guys stayed with the gameplan, and found a different way to score on offense.”
After struggling from three and failing to convert some easy layups, ASU picked up the slack on the free-throw line, but it took them until the second half to really get going. The Sun Devils shot just 58.3 percent in the first half, but went 27-for-36 in the second half. Their 48 total attempted free throws more than tripled the amount taken by the Waves, who just attempted 15 for the entire game.
“I thought our guys did a good job of getting inside and driving the ball,” Sendek said. “And obviously, that helped resolve into 48 free-throw attempts.”
Holder also provided the spark off the bench normally supplied by senior forwards Jonathan Gilling and Bo Barnes. With Barnes scoring just four points and Gilling held scoreless, Holder tallied 15 points and three assists in 33 minutes. He also went 11-for-16 from the charity stripe.
The performance was far from flawless, as Pepperdine forward and Arizona-native Stacy Davis dominanted, racking up 26 points and nine rebounds on 9-for-12 shooting.
“Stacy showed a lot of maturity coming back home to a school that probably should have recruited him,” Pepperdine head coach Marty Wilson said. “This was probably the most composed I’ve seen him play. He was aggressive and very productive.
The game was the first time Davis was able to play against his hometown Sun Devils, and his performance indicated he was eager to show why he is considered one of the best players in the West Coast Conference.
“We had little to no answer for him,” Sendek said. “I congratulate him and his family coming home to play the way he did today. We salute him.”
The Sun Devils get a boost in their next game as sophomore forward Savon Goodman will be eligible for the road tilt against Marquette. Goodman will bring toughness and rebounding, according to Sendek, but the head coach also said that he most likely will not be the starting power forward right away.
ASU bested Marquette last season in a 78-77 thriller. Now, the Sun Devils travel to Milwaukee in search of their first road victory and with the hopes that McKissic and Jacobsen continue their strong form they showed against Pepperdine.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org