(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After the flat performance Arizona State gave against No. 8 Utah, the Sun Devils came out with a sense of urgency against a short-handed Colorado team. ASU was led by an inspired performance from senior forward Shaquille McKissic and pulled out its first conference win of the season, 78-72.
The game was a back-and-forth affair with both teams trading droughts and scoring runs in the first half.
“It was kind of a dog fight today, and to come out on top, finally, after all those close battles, it feels really good,” McKissic said.
Colorado, without the services of junior forwards Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott for the second-consecutive game, turned to senior point guard Askia Booker on offense. Coming off a career-high 30 points in Colorado’s loss to No. 10 Arizona, Booker racked up 21 points. However, Booker slowed considerably in the second half, shooting just 3-for-13 in the final 20 minutes.
Senior forward Bo Barnes guarded Booker for much of the second half, harassing the 6-foot-2 guard on the perimeter, holding him to only 1-for-6 shooting from three. Booker also committed four turnovers.
“Bo – as a senior, I thought – really imposed his will on his teammates, and helped give them confidence,” head coach Herb Sendek said. “He was a real leader today in our huddles, interacting with his teammates.”
The Sun Devils were able to counter Booker’s strong first half as McKissic contributed highlight after highlight throughout the game. McKissic was the recipient of a Barnes alley-oop pass, and a breakaway dunk to finish the first half after Barnes came away with the steal.
“Jon Gilling just told me before the game, ‘Nobody can stay in front of you. You’re too big, too strong, so you just got to go to the rim every time and dunk it,’” McKissic said.
Eye-popping moments kept on coming as McKissic finished over 6-foot-9, 255-pound freshman forward Tory Miller at the rim with a one-handed dunk.
“Once Jon passed it and (Miller) was coming from weak-side, I already knew he was too late,” McKissic said. “I didn’t think he was going to still jump, and then it’s just like one of those things.”
The game remained tight as both teams were tied at 51 with seven minutes remaining in the game. That’s when the Sun Devils caught fire from beyond the arc.
Barnes sank three shots from distance to help ASU pull away from Colorado. As a team, ASU shot 71.4 percent from the field in the second half, nearly a night-and-day difference the team’s 38.1 percent shooting in the first four Pac-12 contests.
“Tonight, the ball went in the basket, and if that’s an oversimplification, so be it,” Sendek said. “Honestly, that’s my prevailing thought right now. The ball went in the basket for us.”
In a game that consisted of 19 lead changes, the Sun Devils were able to pull away despite all of Colorado’s efforts to come back. Free-throw shooting kept the Buffaloes at bay as freshman guard Tra Holder led the way, going 8-for-10 from the line.
The win still does not hide the reality that ASU has started conference play 1-4, but it getting the first Pac-12 win of the season out of the way was a relief for the Sun Devils.
“For these guys and myself as well, it’s a sense of excitement to finally get one because we work so hard in preparation,” McKissic said. “And you never know how it’s going to go once the ball tips.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at email@example.com