(Photo: Josh Orcutt/WCSN)
Despite a poor offensive showing in all facets, the Arizona State Sun Devils rode solid free throw shooting, an opportunistic defensive performance and several clutch plays down the stretch to oust the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos 70-68.
The Sun Devils came out of the gates as sluggish as could be and didn’t score a point until senior forward Willie Atwood split a pair of free throws at the 16:07 mark. On the other hand, UCSB hit three early shots from beyond the arc.
Midway through the first half, ASU went on a 12-2 run over a five-minute span and took a 17-16 lead after Atwood dropped an assist to junior forward Savon Goodman for an easy layup.
Between the two teams, UCSB had far better offensive flow and rhythm in the first half, assisting on each of its 12 made shots in the first 20 minutes of play. ASU struggled from the field, going 8-for-28 (28.6 percent) but stayed in the game via the free throw line where it shot 9-for-11 (81.8 percent). At the half, the Gauchos held a 29-27 lead.
Neither team came out particularly sharp in the second half, turning the ball over on respective possessions.
With UCSB up 39-38, senior guard Gerry Blakes was hit underneath the basket but no foul was called. ASU head coach Bobby Hurley was animated in his reaction toward the ref and was called for a technical foul. UCSB senior guard Michael Bryson sank both free throws (the first of the game for the Gauchos) to give his team a 41-38 lead with 13:31 remaining.
The Gauchos maintained a two-possession lead for much of the second half behind strong play from senior guard Michael Bryson, who poured in 23 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils struggled against UCSB’s zone, shooting just 7-for-25 from beyond the arc.
With 34 seconds remaining, ASU junior guard Andre Spight sank a corner-three to tie the ball game at 68. On the ensuing possession, senior center Eric Jacobsen blocked a floater from UCSB junior guard Eric Childress to give ASU the last possession with 10.9 seconds remaining.
Jacobsen followed that crucial play with an offensive putback from a missed jumper by sophomore Kodi Justice with one second remaining to seal the win for ASU.
Player of the game: Eric Jacobsen
Jacobsen avoided his pesky fouling issues to stay in the game down the stretch, and clearly, it paid off. The senior capped his 10 points and eight rebounds with the game-winner, and the block that gave ASU the ball for the last possession was just as crucial. ASU is a better team with Jacobsen on the floor, and he proved that again in this game.
Biggest concern: Shooting against zone defense
Once again, the Sun Devils struggled to find any sort of offensive rhythm against UCSB’s zone. It was the same struggle that cost ASU the season opener against Sacramento State. Today, the Sun Devils shot 20-of-59 (33.9 percent) from the field and 7-for-25 (28 percent) from three.
Unsung hero: Gerry Blakes
While Blakes didn’t have his most efficient night offensively, his nine points and seven rebounds fail to represent the defensive effort he put in on a handful of Gauchos today, particularly UCSB senior guard John Green.
Green came into today’s game averaging 16.7 points per game, but Blakes – along with a handful of other ASU perimter players – held him to five points on 2-for-12 shooting.
Blakes has been ASU’s best on-ball defender throughout the early portion of the season and continues to handle various types of scorers and ball handlers. Against the upper-tier talent in the Pac-12, he’ll figure to lineup against the best scorers in the conference, and he seems to be the guy the ASU backcourt leans on defensively.
Stat of the night: UCSB 8-for-8 from the free throw line
In Brooklyn, ASU’s opponents went 46-for-67 from the free throw line as the Sun Devils struggled with foul trouble throughout the Legends Classic. Today, the Gauchos didn’t attempt a free throw until the 13:31 mark in the second half following Hurley’s technical foul.
Fouling has been a focus and a struggle for nearly every team across the country, but limiting the amount of opportunities for opponents at the line will be critical. To compound the importance of this, ASU shot 23-for-26 from the free throw line.
The Sun Devils hit to road to Omaha, Nebraska to take on the Creighton Blue Jays on December 2.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com