(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
When the Arizona State Sun Devils and USC Trojans met on January 7, ASU was inches away from stealing one from the Trojans, only down by two points with just over a minute remaining in the game. The slim led blew up right in ASU’s face, allowing USC to leak out and get six easy transition points.
One of the little things. Little things that have haunted ASU all season long.
“Five of our eight losses have been when we’re either down two, even, or up in the last two minutes,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “Whether it’s the way the ball bounces, we don’t secure a defensive rebound, or a team hits a clutch shot on us, there was a lot of that happening for periods of the season.”
In ASU’s second go around with USC, the little things are what they excelled at in their 74-67 victory.
“We had 20 deflections in the first half,” junior forward Savon Goodman said. “We haven’t done that in a while, I guess since Texas A&M.”
Coincidentally, the last time the Sun Devils knocked off a ranked team was when they defeated no. 18 Texas A&M on December 5.
In neither of ASU’s two ranked victories this season did it get involved in a shootout. The Sun Devils rode their defense all the way to the end, so that it wouldn’t come down to their offense having to outscore the more talented opponent.
“Our defense held us in it,” Hurley said. “I felt great at halftime down three after the way we played offense with our shooting percentages, our free throw shooting percentage, our turnovers, and to have it a one possession game, I told the guys we’re going to get this done because we’re going to play better offense in the second half.”
Play better in the second half is exactly what Hurley’s Sun Devils did. After a first half in which they made 33 percent of their shots and turned the ball over seven times, they came out in the second half and made 50 percent of their attempts and cut down the turnovers to five.
“It shows our perseverance and our resilience,” senior guard Gerry Blakes said. “This one was big for us and it was a pivotal moment in our season.”
One of the most resilient performances of the game came from Goodman, who made Blakes stop mid-sentence in the press conference to greet him.
“Here’s the man himself right here,” Blakes said.
Not only was Goodman “the man” in this game, but apparently the junior forward was “the man” for the entire week leading up to his 17-point performance.
“I’m really proud of him (Savon) and happy with his effort, and I had a feeling he was sitting on a game like this,” Hurley said. “He has had a great week of practice, playing with great energy, he was the best player in practice all week so I’m not surprised he had the numbers he put up for us tonight.”
Goodman started out sluggish, but helped elevate his team by bouncing back after doing the little things to propel his game for the remainder of regulation.
“I came to the sideline, my last two (free throws) I missed,” Goodman said. “Coach told me he had a feeling I’m going to have a great game and I washed it out of my mind and the next couple plays down I dove on the floor for a ball and then I got a dunk out of that, and I was right back.”
While his six rebounds for the game don’t jump off the stat sheet, four of them were of the offensive side of the ball. In fact, 16 of the 36 total rebounds ASU snagged were on the offensive glass.
Planning to get offensive rebounds is much easier said than done, but ASU made it look easy and it played a pivotal role in preventing USC from reaching its season average of 84 points.
“We couldn’t afford to give them multiple cracks at it,” Hurley said. “If it was on the floor we needed to get it, if the ball is bouncing in the paint we’ve got to secure it, because they are very talented on offense.”
Not only are the Trojans talented on the offensive end, but that talent is equally spread out throughout the starting lineup. Each of the five USC starters average between 12 and 13 points per game.
“Our activity was really good,” Hurley said. “To hold them to 67 is a challenge.”
The Sun Devils look to carry their dominant defensive performance on to Sunday, when they face UCLA in an effort to split the overall series with the Los Angeles schools.
“We’re on a two-game winning streak but we wash both of the wins out and we have to start fresh,” Blakes said. “Our backs are still against the wall and we have a big challenge coming up on Sunday.”