Sun Devils Snap Two-Game Skid, Outlast Utes

While it might only be January, Thursday's match-up against Utah had the feel of a must-win game for an Arizona State team clinging to hopes of making this year's NCAA tournament. Despite trailing by four points at halftime, the Sun Devils were able to storm back in the second half, putting an end to their two-game losing streak with a 79-75 win to improve to 10-1 at Wells Fargo Arena this season.

"Every game is a must-win game and our home court is something that's sacred," said senior Jordan Bachynski afterwards. "We've got to defend our home court and that's what we went and did tonight."

The Utes (14-5, 3-4 Pac-12) jump out to an early lead in the first half behind the strength of their outside shooting. Utah, which entered the game averaging 81 points per contest and as the nation's third best shooting team, connected on nine of its first 12 shot attempts, including 4-5 from behind the three point line to lead by as many as nine in the first half.

But the Sun Devils turned up the heat defensively in the second half, limiting the Utes to just 40% from the field and 3-12 from deep as they looked to reclaim control.

"We felt like we were playing excellent defense and guys were just making tough shots," remarked point guard Jahii Carson. "Early on we gave them easy buckets. We weren't communicating, we weren't talking. But in the second half we came out and dug deep and we just said, 'No more. No more easy shots. If guys are going to hit the tough shouts, we'll take them.'"

Arizona State (14-5, 3-3) opened the second half on a 15-8 run and led 52-49 with 13:36 to play but found itself trailing by one late. That's when Carson decided it was time for him to take over.

The sophomore helped orchestrate a 7-0 run with a pair of lay-ups in traffic and assisted on an open Jon Gilling three point basket, giving the Sun Devils a six point cushion, their largest lead of the game, with just 1:22 remaining.

Carson, who had been averaging just 15.2 points per game in conference play, was one of four Sun Devils in double-figures on Thursday, finishing with a game-high 23 points to go along with eight rebounds.

"That time when I wasn't being myself, I just wasn't hitting shots," he said. "There's times when guys don't hit shots and they don't play the way they're capable of playing, but I try to be positive and have a great spirit and keep working hard and just be humble and listen to everything the coaches have to say and just keep attacking. If I didn't shoot the basketball, I wouldn't be able to score. I've got to keep shooting."

"Doug (Tammaro ASU's Sports Information Director) just informed me that one time Eddie House went 0-16 in a game. If he can go 0-16 and keep his confidence high, three or four shots aren't going to bug me."

Arizona State Head Coach Herb Sendek shook up the Sun Devil starting line-up against Utah, electing to start forward Eric Jacobsen for the first time this season, pairing the 6-10 sophomore with Bachynski, giving the Sun Devils a more formidable front-court to compete against the taller Utes down low.

"Never was it more apparent than when we played at Tucson last week that our size and athleticism is a problem," said the coach. "We've said every step of the way that our rebounding is a real challenge and we've got to get better at it. So we decided that we would give our team a different look and be able to play two ways.

"Eric has been getting better and so we really created two teams within one and it required a little bit of re-engineering because obviously we have a different look when Eric is at the power forward as compared to Jon, but I thought it worked well for us in stretches today."

The Sun Devils out-rebounded Utah 34-26 and out-scored the visitors by four in the paint, 32-28. Jacobsen scored four points in 16 minutes while Bachynski notched his 10th double-double of the season, finishing with 11 points and 12 rebounds to go along with four blocks, out-dueling his younger brother, Dallin Bachynski, in the win.

"Last night he came over to my house and we played some video games and it was just another day, and then we came and battled against each other today and he battled hard," said Bachynski. "He's a great player and scores well, but I mean, I won."

Bo Barnes followed up his 13 point breakout effort last week in the team's loss to Arizona with another sensational effort, totaling nine points, three rebounds, and two assists in a season-high 28 minutes. He and junior Jon Gilling combined to provide the Sun Devils with a spark off the bench. Gilling added 11 points on 5-5 shooting, including 3-3 from deep, as ASU's bench outscored Utah's 26-11 on the night.

"Those guys, they always have a great attitude," commented Carson. "When Jon was moved out of the starting line-up, he didn't complain. He didn't say a word. He just came out and played much better. And Bo has a great motor. He's a tough kid, a quiet kid, and he just wants to help the team win.

"When he comes out, he is able to defend multiple positions and stretch the floor. And when he and Jon are on the floor together, they can create that much more space for me to operate and it's huge for us."

Arizona State returns to action on Saturday when it hosts Colorado at 5:00 pm. Not only will the Sun Devils look to move up in the conference rankings, but former ASU standout Eddie House will also have his number 5 jersey honored, becoming just the fifth Sun Devil to have his number hung from the rafters at Wells Fargo Arena.

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