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ASU Men’s Basketball: Recapping the Utah and Colorado thrillers

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

Arizona Stae split two games in its second week of Pac-12 action, coming out with a clutch victory over Colorado on Thursday before dropping off in crunch time against Utah on Saturday.

The 78-77 win against Colorado was ASU’s first home game of the Pac-12 schedule. The two teams dueled throughout the game, and ASU found itself trailing by one with 17 seconds on the clock. After Torian Graham missed a game-winning shot, it looked like the Devils would go home with an L.

Junior guard Tra Holder had other ideas. He secured the offensive rebound and threw a final prayer at the rim, drawing a foul.

“I shot a lot of free throws last night because I haven’t been shooting as well as I want to,” Holder said. “I got a routine in my head and I just stuck with it.” He said he spent about half an hour after Wednesday’s practice training from the stripe hitting 48 of 50.

His timing could not have been more perfect for the Devils. He made the two free throws at the end of the game, securing the win for ASU. Despite shooting 3-14 from the floor in the game, Holder became the hero of the night.

The play echoed a similar, clutch end-of-game move by Holder, going back to last year when ASU defeated Creighton. Holder stripped a Creighton rebounder off a missed free throw and put the ball back in the basket, giving ASU an upset victory.

“Tra’s got a nose for the ball,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “He made a winning play. He’s a winner and he made a clutch play for us.”

ASU played strong defense down the stretch as well, as the Buffaloes made only three of their final  10 field goals attempts.

While ASU’s first tight game performance of the week was encouraging, the loss to the Utes showed ASU’s imperfections in close situations. While the Sun Devils managed to pull within two points with a couple minutes left, the Utes ended the game hitting 7-10 while ASU shot only 3-10, mirroring the Cal performance to a lesser extent.

“We got down so we were trying to pick up and press and maybe that’s why their percentages were kind of high,” ASU junior forward Kodi Justice said after the game. “They had two-on-one dump off’s sometimes because we were trying to get some momentum for us. Some rotations we shouldn’t have made and some we should have and they got dunks because of it.”
ASU faced foul trouble in the game as well, with Obinna Oleka fouling out and Shannon Evans playing with four personals down the stretch.
However, the biggest problem for the Devils was that they lost the perimeter battle. ASU shot 8-27 from deep. The Utes, who came into the game 11th in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting at 31 percent, went 8-16. The Devils gave up a 54.8 field goal percentage overall and lost the rebound battle 40-30.
“They made shots and we didn’t and that’s what it came down to,” Justice said. “They hit open shots and we missed them. When we shoot a lower percentage from three, we usually have a hard time winning games. We didn’t shoot well and they shot really well today.”
Despite two rough shooting games, the Player of the Week has to go to Holder. Without his clutch play, the Devils would be staring at a 1-3 Pac-12 record with rival Arizona on tap. Instead, they were able to make progress with a win and learn what closing out games well can do for them in such a tough conference.

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