(Photo: Tyler Rittenhouse/WCSN)
ASU men’s basketball notched its first conference win in Salt Lake City on Sunday, narrowly escaping the Utah Utes 80-77. On a night where the lead changed 18 times, the story of the game ended up being the foul count.
The Sun Devils were called for 31 fouls and had three players — De’Quon Lake, Romello White and Vitaliy Shibel — foul out. Utah lost David Collette to foul trouble in the game’s waning moments and finished with 19 fouls as a team.
“You just don’t anticipate that three players at one position will foul out,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “But you’ve got to be ready.”
A game that remained competitive throughout was devoid of any rhythm. Shannon Evans got back into a rhythm for ASU, however, finishing with a team-high 22 points on 5-of-7 from three-point range. It was a welcome sight for the Sun Devils’ second-leading scorer, who had missed his last 14 three-point attempts coming into Sunday.
“I just want him to be confident and be himself,” Hurley said. “He knew that he had two games that he wasn’t at his best in what he’s capable of doing.
“He knew we needed this game.”
Much like its loss to Colorado on Friday, ASU started hot and abruptly cooled off. The Sun Devils started the game on an 8-0 run and were moving the ball with a rapid pace. As the first half progressed, Utah fought back in the game thanks in large part to an effective 2-3 zone, which has caused ASU problems in conference play.
The Utes led 36-35 at the break. A second 8-0 burst for the Sun Devils at the start of the second half allowed them to reclaim the lead and effectively force Utah to play catch-up. It was a back-and-forth affair that remained close throughout, but ASU led for more than 32 minutes in this game.
“We’ve been in every game,” Hurley said. “Every game we’ve answered the bell. Even the two we lost to start, we had our chances to win. I love the determination of the team.”
Fouls stymied ASU’s ability to get out on the fast break, forcing the Sun Devil offense to operate in the halfcourt and win the game at the free throw line. Free throws and deep three-pointers for Evans were the clutch shots ASU needed to hold off a scrappy Utah squad.
“It was a struggle,” Hurley said, referencing his team’s foul trouble. “It hurts you offensively because you can’t really function on offense the way we normally will.”
A pair of Mickey Mitchell free throws gave the Sun Devils a 79-77 lead with 21.7 seconds left. After Utah’s three-pointer rattled in and out, Evans hit one of two free throws to bring the game to its final score of 80-77.
Next up for the Sun Devils (13-2, 1-2 Pac-12) is a pair of home games against Oregon and Oregon State. After notching its first conference win, ASU will hope to carry the momentum it captured in Salt Lake City back to “The Bank.”