"I thought our guys played a really good first half on both ends of the floor," coach Herb Sendek said of his team. "I thought they really showed a great deal of character being in the right frame of mind and ready to play tonight after a very difficult loss two days ago. We had a number of nice possessions inside. We shot 61 percent in the first half. Once again, some of the stat sheets are hard to compute. Sometimes you just get a little lucky and they miss one of those game winners.
"Starting the second half I thought we got away from our game plan. I thought we took a couple bad shots. We had some turnovers. And as well as we defended the three in the first half, ultimately that was our undoing in the second half. They hit seven, including the last one."
"It's a very thin line between us winning and losing games," said junior guard Trent Lockett. "It's just half a dozen possessions or so. A couple of offensive rebounds here or there and that could be our game."
Through the first ten minutes of the second stanza ASU had scored only eight points, and Southern Miss began gaining momentum with every offensive board it grabbed. The game was beginning to look eerily familiar to Sun Devil fans, and things started falling apart. Then all of a sudden the pot boiled over.
After getting pushed in the face by senior guard Torye Pelham, Ruslan Pateev did his best Drago impression and threw a punch right to the back of Pelham's head, inciting a riot at mid-court. In reality it was a little less like Rocky and a little more similar to Semi-pro, with Pateev no doubt playing Vakitis.
Pateev was pulled to the team's bench, and referees and others in the area held Pelham back while the entire Golden Eagle bench ran over in support of their teammate. After a long review of the tape, Pateev and Pelham were both assessed flagrant II's and were ejected. As well as another Golden Eagle player who wasn't even dressed for the game. Somehow none of the other USM players were penalized and the game went on.
"That can't happen," Lockett commented. "Even if they throw a cheap shot we can't let it escalate to that point. Ruslan apologized to the team and said that it won't happen again and unfortunately he has to sit out the next game."
Even with all the commotion, Sendek still found a way to make the delay productive.
"I took advantage of that delay in play to scream and holler and pop a few blood vessels about our rebounding because at that point it was a massacre on the defensive glass," Sendek said of his team's defensive rebounding. "We've got to be much tougher on the boards; we've got to be much more tenacious. We can't have anybody leaking out; we've got to gang rebound and pursue the ball with tenacity."
"I think it settled us down a bit," Lockett claimed concerning the long game pause. "He (Pelham) was killing us on the boards so maybe it helped us a little."
It all seemed so surreal, but ASU's season has been anything but ordinary so far, given the types of losses it's occurred and the continued wait for Jahii Carson to come be the savior. This was just the type of thing to happen at an ASU game, and then ending didn't disappoint.
With Pateev out, Sendek went to a smaller lineup with Jonathan Gilling on the floor. The first-year player from Denmark has had a tough time adjusting to style of play over in America, but did a nice job pouring in eight points and four assists in twenty-one minutes of court time. Needless to say, his best performance of the year.
"He keeps getting better and better," Sendek said of Gilling. "I thought for the first time he made some physical plays. He did a good job in the first half of going chest-to-chest in the post. He took a charge in the second half. So that was a real breakthrough just in terms of his physicality. I think that the style of basketball here is a little different than he's used to and as he gets more accustomed to that you can certainly see his talent.
"He's a big kid, he shoots the ball well, and he had four assists and no turnovers, so there were some real positives on his end."
From the start of the game till the end, the spotlight belonged to King. The second-year point guard played all but two minutes and posted 16 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists, while only turning it over once.
"I thought Keala did a much better job with only one turnover tonight taking care of the basketball," Sendek said of his point guard. "I thought that was key for us. Some of the other guys have got to do better in that area though because right now we're playing with a very small margin and so each possession is important. We've got to continue to chisel away at turnovers and bad shots. Every possession has to count for us."
With the game on the line, down two with five seconds remaining, King took it to the basket and was fouled. Calmly he drilled both free throws and all ASU had to do was stop the ball to force overtime…Simple enough, right?
ASU who was down 54-43 with 4:50 left in the game was all tied up at 61-61 following those King free throws and with five seconds left in the contest.
Darnell Dodson, who didn't attempt a shot in the first half, caught the inbound pass and jogged up the floor, stopped in front of Chanse Creekmur, and drilled the game-winning three as time expired. Dodson finished with a game high 17 points, and handed ASU another crushing defeat at the buzzer.
Still, with another game just two days away, versus Fresno State, Sendek sees Wednesday's contest as an opportunity to find out just what his team is made of, and frankly he seems quite excited about it.
"What a great challenge," Sendek said of the state of his team. "What a great opportunity for our team. Two bone-crushing losses in the span of three days, guys crying in the locker room, guys crest-fallen, you lose your starting center, and it's just us. It's just us, and we play Fresno State on Wednesday, our third game in five days, without our starting center, having lost two in a row at the buzzer.
"You talk about a great opportunity to see what our constitution is. You can show up Wednesday at four o' clock."