TEMPE, Ariz. – Evan Gordon did not start for the first time this year, but his finish gave Arizona State its most valuable victory of the season.
Gordon’s driving layup as time expired gave the Sun Devils a 63-62 overtime win at Colorado and may be the shot that, when the final numbers area crunched, provides the edge needed to give ASU its first NCAA tournament berth since 2009.
The road victory over a Colorado team that beat No. 9 Arizona by 13 points on Thursday gave Arizona State (19-7, 8-5) a sweep of the season series and kept them two games behind Pac-12 leader Oregon, one game out of second place, and still in good position to claim a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
One projection put Arizona State in the 68-team NCAA field with the victory, and sweeping a team that had a No. 19 RPI rating coming in is a step in the right direction, not that the Sun Devils are looking that far ahead.
“Our first goal is to be the first Arizona State team to win the Pac-12,” Gordon said in a radio interview. “That’s our goal. We always pay attention to the other games and watch the standings, but we’re just taking it game by game, because you can’t play all three at once.”
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Gordon’s game-winner nullified driving layup by Spencer Dinwiddie that gave the Buffaloes (17-8, 7-6) a 62-61 lead with 8.3 seconds remaining.
ASU did not take a timeout and ran the ball up the floor with point guard Jahii Carson. But when the Buffs trapped Carson, he passed back to Gordon about 20 feet out on the right wing, and Gordon split defenders Askia Booker and Sabatino Chen and got the layup over a closing Andre Roberson. The ball rolled around the rim and fell in as the buzzer sound, and Gordon was mobbed by his teammates under the basket.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted to go. The plan was to get Jahii in an isolation situation. I saw Chen on me and I just saw and open lane and drove. I put my head down and tried to make it happen. I saw Roberson coming over to block it and I wanted to get it up before he got his hand on it, and I kind of just put it in the air. I didn’t even see the ball go in. I just saw the bench get up and tackle me,” Gordon said.
“Once I saw them attacking in the open floor, I knew we had a better chance of getting a shot in that situation rather than calling a timeout. Letting them set their defense, I think you just have a much better chance in that situation to hopefully capitalize on the chaos of the moment,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said.
The victory kept ASU from its first three-game losing streak of the season and came after its worst conference loss, a 60-55 defeat at Utah in which the Sun Devils lost a six-point lead with 3 ½ minutes remaining. The Utes scored 19 of the final 26 points.
“We harped on (that) and said we can’t lose another one,” Gordon said.
The Sun Devils lost a six-point lead, their largest of the game, in the final 1:16 of regulation Saturday and were forced into overtime when Xavier Johnson made a slam dunk with 2.5 seconds remaining, a shot set up when Dinwiddie drove the length of the floor after receiving an inbounds pass. Carrick Felix’s 19-footer form the top of the key hit the back of the rim as time expired.
Arizona State managed to play through that, showing the grit that Sendek worked to summon during their two days of practice after the Utah game Wednesday.
“All credit to Herb. Herb got with these guys right after the Utah loss and he challenged their toughness. He challenged their discipline. Thankfully they responded. There were a couple of lulls in the game that our guys could have tanked it and said ‘We are on the road, in elevation. We are not supposed to win.’ They held each other accountable,” assistant coach Dedrique Taylor said in a radio interview.
“We didn’t play as well as we’d like to. We didn’t play as smart as we would like. But I thought we were extremely resilient down the stretch to make some big plays and get the win. It wasn’t pretty, but these are the games we have to win if we are going to play in the postseason.”
It was a physical, emotional game. Freshmen Carson and Johnson bumped early, and Buffaloes freshman Josh Scott did not return after he and Jordan Bachynski got tangled up under the Colorado basket and Scott went down, apparently hitting his head on the floor. Scott was called for a foul on the play attempting to box out Bachynski, who also appeared to elbow Scott.
“Welcome to college football,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “I thought football season was over in December but I guess it is not. That was an unbelievably physical game, hard-fought game by both teams, but Arizona State had the ball at the end and they made a big time play. The most physical basketball game I have ever been a part of in college (or) high school.”
“We were well-energized for the game,” Gordon said.
Carson had 18 points, Gordon had 14 and Bachynski had 12, including six early points when ASU took advantage of his mismatch on the less physical Scott while taking a 27-24 halftime lead.
Dinwiddie had a game-high 24 points, making 14-of-14 free throw attempts to run his consecutive streak to 32. The Sun Devils overcome a 40-18 rebounding deficit by committing only nine turnovers (the Buffs had 15) and holding Colorado to 35.1 percent shooting from the field. ASU shot 46 percent.
Gordon gave the Sun Devils a 57-56 victory with one of his four 3-pointers early in overtime, and Carson made it 61-60 with a driving, 5-foot bank shot over Booker with 1:13 left. Gordon played 30 minutes, not too many short of his normal time, but he admitted it had a different feel.
“I had to keep making myself believe I had just come out of the game, so when I went back in I felt like it was just another rotation. Throughout my life I haven’t really come off the bench much. I had to come in and play whether I was starting or not. I’m here to play basketball, so whether I come off the bench or start, I have to make sure I get my head in the game and do whatever I can to help the team win,” Gordon said.
“It was an emotional victory. We just dug it out and got it.”