(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
With Arizona State clinging to a 72-68 lead with less than a minute to go and the shot clock winding down, senior forward Bo Barnes sank a three-pointer to stretch the Sun Devil lead and essentially put a dagger into No. 6 Arizona.
The shot, according to Barnes’ teammates, was never in question.
Rewind things just over 10 months ago, and his basketball career was.
Despite being a redshirt junior last season, Barnes was honored on Senior Night and most figured his time as a Sun Devil was over. It was so certain that Barnes even posted a tweet thanking the program and announcing his departure.
Back to the game that took place today, and it only added to the unpredictable Bo Barnes-narrative that he would be the one to hit the clutch shot. Despite all the rollercoaster antics of the college basketball season, Barnes’ spot in the limelight came in the biggest moment possible for a Sun Devil.
“Bo had such an iron clad will today,” ASU head coach Herb Sendek said. “His determination was really incredible.”
Throughout the final stretch of the game, Barnes continuously got his teammates to huddle up during every dead ball and made sure they stayed focused on the game in what was a wild atmosphere in Wells Fargo Arena.
“I was just telling them to stay focused and just try to finish out,” Barnes said.
All things considered, ASU still stands at 12-11 this season, 4-6 in the Pac-12. Arizona’s record drops to 20-3 and they’ll more than likely concede a few spots in the next national poll. Save for a win in the Pac-12 tournament, ASU won’t be returning to the NCAA Tournament, but Arizona is expected to make a deep run once again, so in the grand scheme of things, did this game actually matter?
To disregard ASU’s victory as nothing more than an upset would be taking away from the true essence of what is going on with the team. For as much pessimism and justifiable criticism as there has been around the Sun Devils this season, this win was a statement.
“This game just solidifies where we’re at in our season,” sophomore forward Savon Goodman said. “In this game, we got down a couple times. We held the lead the whole game.”
Coming into this season, not much was expected from ASU. Much more was made of its losses on the roster rather than the handful of transfers and low-profile recruits that were added. The Pac-12 media had them slotted at ninth in the preseason poll, and the Sun Devils are currently floating in the basement of the conference.
Not to be confused: This win by no means is a sign that ASU is going to make a miracle run toward the tournament. However, the process by which the Sun Devils won shed light on several encouraging signs for the impending future of the program.
First and foremost, freshman point guard Tra Holder has been marvelous. Matching up with senior guard T.J. McConnell, Holder proved to be more than a worthy adversary. Despite shooting just 3-for-10 from the field, the California-native committed just two turnovers against Arizona’s lengthy defenders and opened up passing lanes with his penetration off the pick-and-roll.
“I’m just really enjoying watching him improve and get better,” Sendek said. “I’m so proud of him. His attitude is so good. His work ethic is improving. He has such a good heart.”
Early in the season, Holder visibly struggled shooting and even getting on the court, but with the injury of freshman point guard Kodi Justice, Holder has embraced the leadership role and looks nothing like the hesitant freshman who donned number-10.
“He’s so easy to cheer for,” Sendek said. “To see him improve game in and game out the way he is is incredible.”
Another question mark coming into the season surrounded Savon Goodman. Ignoring the baggage coming into the year from his past, Goodman impressed in practices and the Maroon and Gold open scrimmage, which only increased the anticipation for when he would step onto the court in mid-December.
Despite his undersized 6-foot-6 frame, Goodman routinely showed his willingness and desire to mix it up under the basket, and when junior center Eric Jacobsen got in foul trouble against Arizona, Goodman stepped up big time with his interior defense.
Although the Wildcats snagged 18 offensive rebounds, Goodman, Barnes and senior forward Jonathan Gilling held Arizona to just 13 second-chance points.
“We knew coming into the game, nothing was going to be easy,” Goodman said. “Our whole key was for me and Eric and partially Jon and Willie Atwood was just own the boards.”
It goes without saying that the season is far from being over, but taking a look into next season, ASU could be making moves toward contending in the Pac-12 once again. Considering the Sun Devils only lose three players to graduation and essentially one starter (although Gilling has started in spots), Sendek has more than enough talent to make noise.
Not only that, but Sendek continuously raves about his love for this group of players.
“I don’t want to get too mushy, but we have terrific guys,” Sendek said. “They are easy to cheer for. I love coaching them. We’ve had some tough losses, but these guys, they show up the next day, they face the music, they want to learn, they want to get better, and in my book, that has to count for something. To me, that’s really special.”
The camaraderie of this cast is more or less one of the only consistent factors throughout this season for the Sun Devils. Whether the team was riding high or when ASU started off 0-4 in conference play, every player emphasized the amount of brotherhood there is on the team. Moving forward, that brotherhood, that manifests in a season that has been anything but stellar, only grows stronger, and going forward, the unity will bode well and eventually lead to progress.
All in all, the game happened. An upset happened. Progress is happening in Tempe, and people should keep their eyes out for what may happen in the future with this team.
Just over a month remains on the schedule. ASU will more than likely finish around .500, but in the midst of what will be a sub-20 victories season, this one will be the one the team holds onto. Holder, Goodman, Jacobsen, etc., are going to build from this win over one of the best teams in the country, and the development is something to watch for, but the future or the big picture is not enough of a reason to belittle this game for ASU.
“A day like today, I’m happy for them,” Sendek said. “They deserve this, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for our players, especially our seniors. That’s how I feel.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.