"We were really up against it…trust me nothing came easy for us today."
The Arizona State Sun Devils (8-1) stepped out to a 2-0 lead to start Sunday's game on a routine Jeff Pendergraph field goal. But from there on out the game was anything but routine and the maroon and gold would go without another lead until overtime.
IUPUI (5-4) caught fire to start the game and the Sun Devils looked as if they were extremely sluggish early in the first half. The Jaguars used a combination of crisp passing and shooting on offense to pick apart the usually stingy zone defense run by the Sun Devils. Jaguar guard Gary Patterson found consistent success and finished the game tied for the team lead with Alex Young in scoring with 19.
On the defensive side of the ball, IUPUI had no problems putting pressure on the Sun Devils. ASU's All-American guard James Harden was held to a mere three points and one field goal attempt in the first twenty minutes and the Jaguars led 34-18 going into the locker room.
"We talked about the fact that we had just seven deflections," said Sendek about his halftime speech, "that we gave up 54% (field goal shooting) if I'm not mistaken. We had as many field goals as we had turnovers. We talked about some actions we could employ against their matchup zone."
In the second half Arizona State made some the necessary adjustments. The most noticeable of these changes was the Sun Devils switching from zone to man defense. This was the first time Sun Devil fans had seen this look from their defense in about a year and it was mostly successful, as ASU consistently cut into the Jaguars lead.
Sendek downplayed the impact the rare switch in defensive scheme had in the second half.
"Honestly, I don't think it's a function of man to man or zone," claimed Sendek. "I think it was function of we turned up the voltage.
"I know on the surface it looks as if it was the turning point, but I really think below that surface, whether we were playing man or zone, was the fact that we played with more passion. We turned up the amps and whether you play man or zone that is required."
IUPUI scored just two points in the last seven minutes of regulation.
Surprisingly the Sun Devils did not get a big boost from Harden in the second half either, and instead had to rely on sharpshooter Rihards Kuksiks. The Latvian Forward came through in a big way finishing with 18 points (12 in the second half), a career-high nine rebounds (six of them offensive), four assists and a team high three steals.
"I just had a lot of open shots," said Kuksiks who tied a career-high established a week ago in a win over Nebraska. "I had to make them because we were down and we were given a lot of open shots because they were all of their attention was on James."
Kuksiks is averaging over 17 points in the last three games, establishing career highs in each of those contests, but he would have no talk about any positive momentum he's enjoying these days.
"I played well on the offensive end, but I'm looking at my turnovers," he said brining the stat sheet closer to him. "I got four turnovers and that balances it. I'm just thinking about (not) making turnovers in tight games."
All of the sophomore's 18 points came from beyond the arc (6-11) including the shot to tie the game up at 55 with only 2:04 remaining. Neither team scored the rest of the period.
Neither team scored again in regulation and as the game went to overtime both team's cold streaks continued. Points were not scored in overtime until Pendergraph had an easy put back at the 2:48 mark.
Harden fouled out soon after, scoring a season low nine points, and the team was only able to muster just one more field goal the rest of overtime, a basket by Derek Glasser. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, that was enough to get the victory.
IUPUI had possession of the ball with slightly over ten seconds remaining down only one point but could not come up with a field goal when they needed it most. ASU was well below the team foul limit for free throws, and hacked away at the Jaguars, disturbing their offensive flow.
After a surprising IUPUI timeout with only 2.7 seconds the Jaguars limited their options offensively and were not able to execute a play to get a off a quality shot.
Pendergraph had a double-double with ten points and 11 rebounds. Glasser and Ty Abbott also finished in double figures with 10 and 12 points respectively. Glasser led both teams with five assists in this highly contested game.
"This team learned to win close games last year," said Sendek. "It's really been a very positive attribute of these guys. They've been able to make clutch plays on both ends of the floor to win nail biters and they did again today."
The Sun Devils are off until next Saturday when they play at the Stadium Shootout doubleheader at the University of Phoenix Stadium to face the BYU Cougars.