Sun Devils overcome slow start to beat Gauchos 70-68

The Sun Devils started the game 0 of 9 from the field, but had a 7-0 run to finish the game to secure their fourth win of the season.

As Arizona State sophomore guard Kodi Justice's jumper sailed through the air with mere seconds remaining in a tie game, the fans at Wells Fargo Arena could only watch as the ball failed to even graze the rim. 

With Justice's shot off the mark, it appeared ASU would squander its opportunity to complete its come-from-behind victory and head into another overtime game like it did in a losing effort to Marquette on Tuesday night.

But with one second remaining on the clock, senior center Eric Jacobsen took matters into his own hands. 

Waiting below the basket for his eighth rebound of the night, Jacobsen snatched Justice's missed ball out of the air and scored the game-winning put-back to give ASU a 70-68 victory over UCSB (2-3) in front of 4,026 on Sunday afternoon.

With the win, the Sun Devils improved to 4-2 on the season.

“Just really just proud of my team and the way they responded in late-game situations and found a way to win the game down the stretch both ends of the court getting stops and getting some key plays," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. "I think obviously (junior guard) Andre (Spight)’s three was big in that point of the game and then Eric not giving up on the play at he end and getting that big tip in.” 

With 35.8 seconds left in the second half, Spight pulled up from the corner and nailed a three-pointer to tie the game 68-68 after Jacobsen had put the Sun Devils to within three points off two made free throws with 1:05 remaining in the game. Spight was 2 of 10 shooting from the field prior to his game-tying three-pointer, starting the night off going 0 of 7 from three-point range and knocking down his last three attempts. 

“We know what he (Spight) is capable of doing and it just hasn’t always been there this year and he’s finding his way as guys in their first year sometimes do," Hurley said. 

And after a timeout by UCSB with 29.9 left in the game, Jacobsen came up with a huge block on UCSB's junior guard Eric Childress floater attempt with 11 seconds remaining, setting up Jacobsen's put-back game-winner on the other end of the floor.

“I mean I saw he was putting up a jumper and I was hoping like it would come off light like it did and I just crashed the offensive boards," Jacobsen said. "The ball kind of bounced in my hands.”

Jacobsen said the plan at the end was to do a high pick-and-roll screen for Justice, but Justice "must have saw" something at the end to give him the open shot. Hurley choose not to have sophomore guard Tra Holder on the floor in the games final minutes, electing to have Justice in instead. Holder shot 0 of 5 from the field prior to that point, scoring only five points total. Two of Holder's five points came in the first half. 

“You kind of go by feel and the type of offensive game your players are having and we went with more guys that are threats shooting the ball against their zone and a little more size at the point guard sport with Kodi guarding their point guard who wasn’t a threat to score, he was able to give him some trouble feeding the ball into (UCSB senior guard Michael) Bryson and just having more guys that can shoot the three against their zone," Hurley said. 

Bryson led the Gauchos with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the field. 

With Jacobsen's put-back at the end, ASU had a 25-4 advantage in second-chance points over the Gauchos. Jacobsen recorded six offensive rebounds by himself out of ASU's 16 in the game. Junior forward Obinna Oleka chipped in three offensive rebounds and had seven rebounds in total. 

“It’s something that we have been doing," Hurley said. "We did it in Brooklyn and we did it effectively there in both of our games. I think it’s one of our strength particularly when we go big with the combination, any combination of our four front court players together and sliding (senior forward) Willie (Atwood) over to the 3 (spot), that gives us a chance to do that some to our opponent.”

But while ASU's second-chance points looked impressive on the stat sheet, the second-chance points were mostly due to the Sun Devils being unable to knock down seemingly anything on offense, especially in the first half. 

The Sun Devils started the game shooting 0 of 9 from the field as the Gauchos jumped out to a 11-3 lead in just under seven minutes. All three of the Sun Devils' three points came from free throws by senior forward Willie Atwood.

Surprisingly, in addition to second-chance buckets for ASU, free throws kept the Sun Devils in the game down the stretch, with ASU converting 23 of 26 free throws overall and 14 of 15 in the second half alone. Free throws had been a lingering trouble spot for ASU since last season. 

Jacobsen scored ASU's first basket with 13:30 left in the first half, but those would be his only points as he headed into halftime with two fouls. 

By halftime ASU trailed 29-27, mostly due to its 28.6 percent shooting on 8 of 28 from the field. The Gauchos shot 46.2 percent on 12 of 26 shooting from the field. UCSB started off hot from behind the arc, knocking down 4 of 7 to start the game. 

To start the second half, ASU went cold until senior guard Gerry Blakes hit a three-pointer to give ASU a 32-31 lead with 16:37 left in the game. A mere three minutes later, Blakes tried to get a shot off under the basket but got his shot blocked and seemingly got fouled. But with no foul called, Hurley was visibly upset, stomping up and down the sideline arguing for a foul and was called for his first technical of the season. 

Two made free throws off the technical foul call by UCSB and an ensuing three-pointer by the Gauchos gave them a six-point lead and it appeared Hurley's technical foul would be costly. But fighting back after each UCSB basket, ASU found itself in a rather unforeseen situation to win the game, going on a 7-0 run to end the game.  

“We just have to expect to be in close games," Hurley said. "We scheduled hard and there’s a lot of other opponents we could have brought here who I think wouldn’t have been of the quality that this opponent was even though they don’t have the big name attached to them that everyone in college basketball knows about.” 

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