"Fortunately for us it came for us after the buzzer but not by that much…from what I have been told it was clearly the right call. It wasn't like it was an inappropriate call. That was a hard fought game that could have gone either way."
The Cougars were red hot in the first half, shooting 57.7% from the field. Yet, the Sun Devils hung tough at the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale after trailing 9-2 with 16:40 left in the half.
A day following his graduation ceremony, Jeff Pendergraph had 12 of his 22 points in that period, and at the 7:58 mark and ASU led 23-17.
"The big thing was that my teammates were giving me the ball down low," explained Pendergraph. "That was a big emphasis before the game. They (BYU) were gonna play behind and if that's what they're gonna do they're gonna have to pay for it."
"I'm no bum – gotta respect the paint," he quipped. "It's hard to miss a shot when you're right under the rim."
The ASU forward was happy to take advantage of the single coverage he got all afternoon. "Starting attacking the basket and still no one coming? This is gonna be a long day," said Pendergraph about BYU's defensive plan on him.
Leading 33-28 with 3:33 left, the Cougars went on a 13-3 run, converting three of their six shots beyond the arc and held a 41-36 advantage at the half.
"They're the real deal on offense," stated Sendek. "…every time you don't execute in some fashion on offense, in warp speed it's up the floor, they run a break and it's in the basket. I was mesmerized watching them on tape. Seeing them in person, my feelings are only confirmed."
ASU played catch-up for literally the whole second stanza. Even though they somewhat slowed down BYU, limiting them to 42.3% shooting in the second half, they still found themselves trailing by ten points, 66-56, with 9:31 left in the game.
The Sun Devils limited the Cougars to nine points and three field goals the rest of the way. 16 of James Harden's 30 points came from the charity stripe, and even though he missed five free throws in the second half, he still was able to bring the maroon and gold within two points, 72-70, with 2:36 left.
Sendek downplayed any adjustments his squad made down the stretch, and mentioned the fine play by the team's two leaders. "Guys like James and Jeff stepped up," said Sendek. "They were really aggressive on offense and made plays. These guys are the difference makers.
"At that time their constitution and determination were really special. That's not to take anything away from BYU. If for nothing, they would have won today's game. It was that close."
Along with Jamelle McMillan's ten points off the bench, that trio of ASU players scored 62 of the team's 76 points today.
Harden applauded his teammates that fed him the ball constantly, which helped him pour in 21 points in the second half, 13 of them from the free throw line. "They did a pretty good job giving me the ball so I could attack and create open shots for them," noted Harden. "When we were down I just looked to attack more and make a play."
Ty Abbott was just 2-10 from the field today, but that was easily forgotten as he tied the score at 73 apiece with just over two minutes left. Rihards Kuksiks scored just his second filed goal of the game with one minute left, to knot it up at 75-75.
Harden made one of two free throws, and BYU failed to answer on the other end suffering a heartbreaking loss. Another game, another razor thin victory for the maroon and gold.
Pendergraph claimed that he knew BYU's basket wasn't going to count and was hoping that "this better not be turning into some dang Cinderella story," he said. "They better not make a movie out of this one."
Sendek expressed mixed feelings about his team's back to back one point wins.
"On the one hand, it reinforces my briefly that they (his team) has great grit, tremendous heart," stated Sendek. "On the other hand, it reminded us that we still have a lot of work to do."
"We don't get frustrated at crunch time," commented Pendergraph. "I think that's why when we've been in these situations we came up on top. Me and James turn it up. Everybody turns it up.
"That what makes our team so good. When we're down we realized what we need to do to get the win."
This game was played at the Arizona Cardinals' stadium as part of a dress rehearsal of sorts for the NCAA's Western Regional post-season tournament that will be held there in March of next year. Playing at this environment, in front of 10,431 fans, felt like a game the Sun Devils aspire to be a part of following their regular season.
"It was great, it was a big environment," admitted Harden. "We had a lot of fans…we've never been in the tournament, but it felt like the tournament. It was a great opportunity for us to play in such a big stage like this, and I thought we played pretty well."
ASU plays its next to last non-conference contest of the year against Idaho State on Tuesday. Tip-off at Wells Fargo Arena is set for Noon.