College basketball fans have seen this movie all season.
The Arizona Wildcats, who just so happen to be the No. 2 team in the latest Associated Press Top 25 Poll, are caught in a back-and-forth affair and are trailing late in the second half. On multiple occasions it appears as if Sean Miller’s team is definitely going down.
Then the Wildcats find a way to pull it out at the end.
Only this time it didn’t happen.
The Arizona State Sun Devils slayed the Pac-12 leader in double-overtime in front of a home crowd (that was very split in allegiance) to the tune of 69-66. Jermaine Marshall led the way with 29 points and the game-winning floater in double-overtime.
To say it was the game of the year in the Pac-12 would be an understatement.
It was a rematch of a Jan. 16 game that saw Arizona dominate Arizona State 91-68, only these were very different teams the second time around.
The Wildcats are without Brandon Ashley (foot surgery) for the rest of the season, while the Sun Devils have now won six of seven. What’s more, Arizona State is an impressive 14-1 on its home floor this season after the win.
Miller discussed what his team needs to do going forward without Ashley to reporters in comments that were passed along by CBS Sports:
We're not going to be able to replace Brandon. We're going to have to do it as a team and there are things that we have to try to emphasize more now that he's not a part of what we're doing and maybe emphasize some things less. We're working through that as a coaching staff and a team.
While Ashley’s presence was certainly missed against the Sun Devils, the Wildcats’ defensive prowess was in full force in the first half. Arizona was No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy’s (subscription required) pace-adjusted defensive efficiency rankings coming into the game and held the Sun Devils to 21 points in the first 20 minutes.
The Wildcats had all the momentum at halftime with a five-point lead after Nick Johnson made an incredible play before the buzzer sounded by slashing the lane and hitting a contested shot through traffic.
ESPN College Basketball checked in with a halftime update:
Shortly after intermission, an Arizona State fan in the student section was removed for throwing an object at Arizona’s sideline.
Arizona’s Associate Athletic Director for Communications Jeremy Sharpe reminded fans of his school to keep it classy immediately afterward:
Early momentum or not, Arizona State’s Marshall kept the Sun Devils afloat in the first half with 12 points and then hit multiple threes to give his team the lead before the first television timeout of the second half.
It was back-and-forth for much of the game after that, and Marshall was an absolute offensive force for extended stretches in the second half. He was really the sole reason the Sun Devils hung around late in the first half and early in the second half.
His teammate Jahii Carson struggled mightily in the first half with two points on 1-of-5 shooting but came to life with three-straight impressive drives in the lane to give Arizona State a six-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining.
After the teams exchanged baskets for a few minutes, Carson hit a huge step-back three to extend the lead to four, but the Sun Devils’ offense crumbled in critical late possessions with multiple turnovers and a shot-clock violation with less than 20 seconds remaining. It ultimately allowed Arizona to finish strong and force overtime.
Much like regulation, the first overtime period went back-and-forth.
Both Carson and Arizona's Nick Johnson missed multiple free throws and chances to give their teams the victory with shots in the final minute.
Then the early moments in double-overtime belonged to Aaron Gordon, who scored two-consecutive baskets on one-on-one drives to give Arizona a commanding four-point lead. Marshall, who was quiet for the first overtime period, then responded with two contested three-pointers.
Marshall saved his best for last with an incredible drive to the basket and contested shot in the lane, which gave Arizona State a one-point lead.
When Jordan Bachynski blocked Arizona's next attempt, the game should have ended, but Carson scored instead of dribbling the clock out. One premature court storm later, Arizona was awarded with one final possession, but Johnson's desperation heave came up inches short.
There was discussion about possibly giving multiple technical fouls to the crowd for rushing the court before the game was over and Carson for hanging on the rim, but alas the refs elected not to test the crowd's reaction to that decision.
SportsCenter summed up the scene:
Doug Haller of AZ Central indicates, there was a member of the Sun Devils' squad who perfectly predicted the final result:
It was a fitting ending to one of the most exciting games of the entire college basketball season.
Nick Johnson, Arizona: C
Nick Johnson would have earned a higher grade against the Sun Devils if he was more efficient, but finishing 5-of-20 from the field is going to hurt the grading curve.
However, to Johnson's credit he did score 14 points and grab nine rebounds. He is on the short list of Pac-12 Player of the Year candidates for a reason and a primary factor for the No. 2 ranking beside Arizona's name.
Still, he missed multiple free throws in overtime and had a number of chances to give his team the victory.
He came up short.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State: B
Fans were treated to both sides of Carson against the Wildcats.
The bad side accounted for six turnovers and a number of ill-advised shots. He also failed to do anything with the ball in the final moments of regulation, which led to a crippling shot-clock violation, and threw up an out-of-control attempt at the basket in a late possession in overtime, which gave the Wildcats a chance to win.
He also missed important free throws in overtime.
Part of Carson's struggles need to be attributed to Arizona's stifling defense, as Seth Davis of CBS Sports pointed out:
Despite the struggles, Carson showed his brilliant side with multiple circus shots, including a crucial one in overtime to give the Sun Devils a three-point lead. He also injected life into his team and the crowd with an inspired stretch of play in the middle of the second half.
He finished with 17 points, six assists and six turnovers on 7-of-17 shooting.
Aaron Gordon, Arizona: B -
Outside of some impressive rebounding, Gordon was somewhat invisible for much of the game.
He isn't the same pick-and-roll player that Ashley is, which hurts the offense, and he didn't really assert himself on the post.
However, in double-overtime, Gordon made multiple one-on-one drives to the basket to give Arizona a solid four-point lead that it ultimately squandered. The Wildcats may not have lost if Gordon didn't finish 3-of-8 from the free-throw line, as Davis pointed out:
Jermaine Marshall, Arizona State: A
Marshall finished with a game-high 29 points, kept the Sun Devils afloat during the middle of the game and scored the game-winning basket in double-overtime. He also hit two huge threes in the final minutes of the game to help make up the four-point deficit Arizona State faced in double-overtime.
Arizona is set to continue its three-game road trip with games at Utah (Wed.) and at Colorado (Feb. 22). Utah is 17-7 overall and 6-6 in Pac-12 play, while Colorado is 18-7 overall and 7-5 in conference. Neither game will be easy for the Wildcats, but Johnson and company should pick up two more wins.
In a bit of a schedule quirk, Arizona State also goes to Colorado and Utah in its next two games.
The Sun Devils play the Buffaloes on Wed. and the Utes on Feb. 23, and with all three teams as part of the logjam in the middle of the Pac-12 standings, both games will take on added importance.
After all, March is almost here.
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