The best player on the floor was not quite enough to overcome the more physical front line Saturday.
Arizona State freshman Jahii Carson scored a career-high 32 points and dominated play at one end, but Washington held on behind the 1-2 frontline punch of Aziz N’Diaye and Shawn Kemp Jr. for a 96-92 Pac-12 victory, a game ASU never led but one that was not decided until the 7-foot N’Diaye stepped in to contest a Carson drive through the lane with five seconds remaining.
The ball did not draw iron, and C.J. Wilcox got the rebound and made two free throws to enable the Huskies (13-9, 5-4) to break a four-game losing streak and end the Sun Devils’ winning streak at three.
While ASU shot 63.8 percent from the field and went 12 for 19 on 3-point attempts, Washington countered those numbers with a 36-20 rebounding advantage and scored 50 points in the paint. The Huskies had 14 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points, including N’Diaye’s follow shot and free throw after a Scott Suggs missed jumper with 31.8 seconds remaining that broke a tie at 89.
“They made a point to attack us in the paint, and I thought they did an excellent job of doing that,” Arizona State assistant coach Dedrique Taylor said in a radio interview. “I don’t know if you can ever find a game where a team shoots 64 percent, especially on the road, and then lose, but defensively we were nonexistent. They killed us for 50 points in the paint. They looked like they had an offensive juggernaut going on tonight.”
Carson went 13 for 19 from the field, hitting both 3-point attempts, both in the final 90 seconds. Gilling had a career-high 22 points and was 6 for 8 from beyond the arc.
But while ASU’s rotating group of Carrick Felix, Evan Gordon and Chris Colvin held Wilcox, the Huskies’ leading scorer, to two field goals and seven points, ASU had no answer for N’Diaye or Kemp. N’Daiye had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Kemp had 18 points and six rebounds. They were a combined 16 for 22, making shot after shot on either side of the lane against Gilling and center Jordan Bachynski. Reserve guard Andrew Andrews also had 20.
Carson’s 32 points were three short of the school’s freshman record, second only to Mario Bennett’s 35 in a 77-74 victory over then-No. 5 Arizona on Feb. 20, 1992.
“He showed up in a big game and he tried to carry us,” Taylor said. “His numbers were gaudy, but I think more than that, his will, his fire … it was contagious for them and they picked it up a little bit and kind of got it going a little bit. At the end of the day, it just wasn’t enough. We needed one or two more defensive stops with rebounds to be able to finish that game.”
Arizona State (17-5, 6-3) could have made a strong case for inclusion in the national polls this week had it come away with a road sweep after beating Washington State on Thursday behind Carson’s 25 points, as current No. 16 Mississippi lost two games this week and No. 21 San Diego State lost to unranked Air Force on Saturday.
“If you tell us we come up here and get a split, logically you take that. But it’s just disappointing that we lost one to a team tonight we should have beaten. We just didn’t take care of our business. I think we’re still a little bit ahead of the curve,” Taylor said.
As it is, ASU is tied with UCLA one game behind Oregon and Arizona for the Pac-12 lead at the midway point of the season and appears more and more like an NCAA tournament team each passing week.
The Sun Devils trailed 69-54 against the Huskies with 12-plus minutes remaining before Carson and Gilling brought them all the way back. Carson accounted for 27 of the Sun Devils’ final 38 points, scoring 18 points and assisting on two Gilling 3-pointers and another by Felix, who sat out much of the first half after picking up his third foul with 8:47 left and got his fourth with 12:52 remaining in the game. He had 10 points in a season-low 29 minutes.
“That’s what good players do. They need to know when to pick their spots,” Taylor said of Carson. “He did an excellent job getting to the rim. He took him open shots and made them.”
Carson made three driving layups and assisted on a Gilling 3-pointer, but Washington still led 76-63 with 10-plus minutes left before ASU made another surge. Eric Jacobsen assisted on a Gilling 3-pointer and made a layup after a Colvin feed, and Colvin had a driving layup as ASU closed to 78-72.
Carson made four free throws and threw down a breakaway slam ahead of Wilcox after a Gordon steal to make it 82-78 Washington. Felix followed with a 3-pointer, Gilling made a baseline jumper and Carson hit a 3 of his own behind a Bachynski screen from the top of the key to get the Sun Devils within one at 87-86 with 1:24 remaining. After Suggs (14 points) hit a jumper, Gilling tied the score at 89 on 3-pointer from the right wing after a feed from Carson.
Washington ran its offense on its next possession, and Felix forced Suggs into a contested 17-footer, but N’Diaye got the rebound and put a left-handed shot in. His free throw made it 92-89, and Wilcox made two free throws after Felix missed at the other end. Carson’s final three made it 94-92, and ASU’s defense forced Washington into a five-second inbound violation with 13.9 seconds left, but the Sun Devils couldn’t finish off the comeback.
“We still have to shore some things up defensively as teams try to attack us inside, and we have to answer the bell to that,” Taylor said.