TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State believes it has the skill and the substance to not only make the NCAA tournament but do some damage upon arrival.
With a resume-building 79-77 victory over No. 25 Marquette at Wells Fargo Arena on Monday, the Sun Devils improved to 6-0 in the kind of statement game the tournament selection committee can point to and nod.
“That’s a big one,” said reigning Pac-12 player of the week Jahii Carson, who led ASU with 23 points.
“We knew we could come out and compete with them. We came out with a lot of energy. It’s huge.”
At the same time, the Sun Devils still are not sure many people are paying attention — not that it makes any difference as they prepare for the Wooden Legacy tournament that begins with another test, a first-round game against No. 20 Creighton on Thanksgiving Day.
“I don’t even think we are going to get some respect now,” Carson said. “I think we are going to have to come out and win this championship at this tournament, and then we’ll get some.”
Marquette (3-2) was by far ASU’s most difficult test this season. The Golden Eagles have been to eight straight NCAA tournaments, the sixth-longest streak in Division I, and are one of four teams to make to the Sweet 16 in each of the last four years (Kansas, Florida and Ohio State are the others).
They are strong and athletic, but ASU was not fazed. The Sun Devils shot 53.7 percent from the field and made 10-of-22 3-pointers against a team that entered the night ranked 13th in the nation in field goal defense (34.6 percent).
The Golden Eagles shot just 40.6 percent from the floor, slightly better than ASU’s average of 38.9 coming in, but they were handicapped when leading scorer Todd Mayo missed the game with a sprained ankle.
When it came down to it, ASU center Jordan Bachynski was more than equal to the pounding he took in the paint from 6-foot-11, 275 pound Chris Otule and 6-8, 290-pound Davante Gardner.
Bachynski made the defensive play of the game, blocking a 10-foot driving shot by Derrick Wilson after Jermaine Marshall made 1-of-2 free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining.
“We knew we had to play heads-up basketball and play smart,” Bachynski said of the last possession. “We were going to key on their shooters. I knew (Wilson) was coming around the corner, I knew he was going to take it.
“I just leaped over, jumped and prayed, and blocked the shot.”
That was Bachynski’s seventh block to go with his 14 points and 11 rebounds in a career-high 39 minutes. Bachynski joined Kentucky freshman big man Julius Randle as the only two D-I players with double-doubles in all six games of their games this season. New Mexico’s Alex Kirk is 5-for-5.
Marshall had 21 points, his ASU high and the seventh-highest total of his career, and he took over the game for stretch of the second half as Marquette used the outside shooting of Jake Thomas (16 points, five second-half 3-pointers) to come back from a 43-33 halftime deficit.
Marshall, who played the entire game, had 10 straight points to keep ASU ahead, 58-54. He was given a technical foul for taunting after his last hoop, and ASU was assessed a second technical when a fan threw a glow stick on the court after the crowd was warned against throwing objects.
Gardner, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, made three of four free throws to get Marquette to within one point, and his short jumper gave the Warriors their last lead, 63-62.
Freshman Egor Koulechov scored on a drive on the left baseline to put ASU back in front, and Carson accounted for the next 10 points with a 3-pointer, a baseline jumper, two free throws and assist on Jonathan Gilling’s 3-pointer to make it 74-64, and the Sun Devils never lost the lead.
ASU had the 34th-most votes in the latest AP poll released Monday, and as Carson said earlier, it is not an issue.
“You know what, I like being the underdog,” Bachynski said.
“Growing up my dad always cheered for the underdog, so kind of like being that underdog. I dob’t pay too much attention to that, because every day top 25 teams are beat by guys who aren’t on the radar. I love that. It’s nice to go out and get that win against such a great team. This is the first team we played that really had a huge inside presence.”