(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
In a game that featured anything but fluid basketball on the offensive end, Arizona State came away with its fifth win in seven games over the USC Trojans, 64-59.
The most stark trait of this game was the lack of an offensive flow from the Sun Devils. In the first half, both ASU and USC came out cold, combining for as many turnovers (18) as they did made field goals.
That end of the floor got better for USC in the second half as the Trojans were 10-for-11 over an eight minute stretch in the second half.
“You got to give ‘SC a lot of credit,” ASU head coach Herb Sendek said. “They were making shots. They were executing very well.”
However, the Sun Devils continued to struggle mightily on offense and ended the game shooting an abysmal 35.5 percent from the floor, which was the second-lowest shooting percentage in a win for ASU while under Sendek.
“Obviously, it was a night when we were ice cold from the field,” Sendek said. “As simple as it sounds, it’s a function of the ball going into the basket.”
Sophomore guard Gerry Blakes did his best to keep his team within striking distance as the Trojans stretched their lead to 10 points with 9:53 remaining, chipping in 12 points and eight rebounds.
Senior forward Bo Barnes was ASU’s only other reliable source for positive results on the offensive end as well, despite going 0-for-4 from beyond the arc. Barnes racked up 11 points in 18 minutes and brought an energy on defense that was mostly lacking.
“We didn’t make shots, and then down the defensive end of the floor, I thought we allowed that to carry over,” Sendek said. “But at the same time, it would be, it would really be missing the mark if we didn’t give ‘SC some credit.”
With 1:51 left in the game, freshman guard Tra Holder sunk a three to tie the game at 56, which would be his only made field goal of the game. After a strong run of play from the freshman, Holder would limp his way to 10 points, 7-for-8 from the free-throw line, and five assists.
The Trojans continued to try to pull away from ASU behind a big night from the relatively unknown Kahlil Dukes, who stepped in for the injured freshman guard Jordan McLaughlin and sophomore guard Katin Reinhardt, who was sent back to Los Angeles after a violation of team rules.
“Our guys know who’s on the other team,” Sendek said. “And, if anything, our guys – I don’t think that had anything to do with the play. They watch the games.”
Dukes, who had not played over 12 minutes all season, thrived in the opportunity, tallying 18 points and two assists on 46.7 percent shooting.
However, Dukes night would be in vain due to a late three from ASU senior forward Jonathan Gilling, who was cold as anyone on the floor during the game. After going just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc, Gilling drained a fading three-pointer to give ASU a 59-56 lead with 44 seconds remaining.
“When that shot went in to put us ahead by three, it reminded all of us why, throughout his career, we’ve nicknamed him the ‘Danish Dagger,’” Sendek said. “And that takes a lot of courage when things aren’t going your way in a close game, to rise up and make that kind of shot.”
USC would foul and try to claw its way back, but it would not be enough as ASU stole another win, its seventh in the last 10 Pac-12 contests.
“The look in our eyes changed, and then we got some big stops, some big rebounds from (Jacobsen) and Savon like they have been all season,” Gilling said.
This win carried importance for ASU in the sense that USC was a team most thought it would come out on top against. With USC not having a win away from the Galen Center during the Pac-12 season, a loss against the Trojans could have derailed the tangible progress the Sun Devils have shown over the conference season. Despite having its worst offensive outing this season, ASU showed resiliency that was not seen during the nonconference schedule.
“We’re just getting better,” Sendek said. “Part of it may be figuring out how to win, but I think even more than that, we’re getting better, and the reason is they’re very consistent with their work habits, and they have great attitudes.
“I’ve had as much joy being in the gym with this team as with any team I’ve ever coached, and I said that even before we won seven out of 10. I said that even when we were getting our teeth kicked. I’ve had fun being in the gym with these guys. They want to listen, they want to learn, they have great attitudes, and there’s always energy in the gym, and that’s a combination that is conducive to improvement.”
ASU’s remaining four games are split evenly between Wells Fargo Arena and the road, and the Sun Devils will need to keep the current momentum as the Pac-12 Tournament draws nearer.
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org