Texas A&M-Arizona St. Preview
Arizona State's consecutive two-point wins have come with similar levels of last-minute excitement, even if the second came in a considerably more respectable context.
The bar again rises Saturday night with No. 18 Texas A&M visiting Tempe in a rematch of last season's one-point game, and while wins over ranked foes haven't been entirely uncommon for the Sun Devils lately, the losses between have been messy.
Since the start of 2013-14, Arizona State (5-2) is 3-5 against the Top 25 with the wins all coming by three points or fewer. The losses have come by an average of 26.8 points and none by less than 17.
The Aggies (7-1) are beginning to understand those huge wins are what's expected of them against unranked opponents but are finding it doesn't always work out that way.
"Being a ranked team, the expectations are higher for you," senior guard Jalen Jones said after a 75-65 victory over Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday. "Everybody expects you to blow out unranked teams, and dominate them. But sometimes you have to pull out tough victories."
Arizona State, meanwhile, is coming off a 79-77 win at Creighton on Wednesday following Sunday's 70-68 home win over UC Santa Barbara. In Omaha, the Sun Devils trailed by eight at half, then grabbed the lead on a goaltending call in the final seconds.
It was their first true road game and acted as a fine tune-up and confidence builder before hosting the Aggies and visiting No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 12.
"I just love our team right now," said forward Savon Goodman, who scored a season-high 23 points and leads the team with 13.9 per game on 64.5 percent shooting. "Everybody's playing their role, everybody's finding their niche. We're on a roll."
A roll of close games - yes. A roll of success - not just yet.
The Sun Devils shot 51.7 percent against the Bluejays, but the win over UC Santa Barbara and the overtime loss to Marquette that preceded it came on a combined 35.9 percent. Arizona State was 7 of 17 from 3-point range against Creighton, but it's shooting just 29.8 percent from beyond the arc for the season.
Coach Bobby Hurley's assessment was a little more grounded.
"We haven't shot the ball great yet," said Hurley, whose team hit 18 of 28 in the second half. "We came out of our shell with that today."
A&M has been a better offensive team, but it went the other way in the win over Florida Gulf Coast, shooting 40.6 percent and hitting 3 of 17 from outside - though it remains a 40.6 percent 3-point shooting team.
"We're not where we need to be," said coach Billy Kennedy, whose team is playing its first true road game after five at home and three at neutral sites. "We can get a lot better, and that's the good thing about it."
Jones, suspended for the first four games after taking part in a non-sanctioned scrimmage, got his first start of the season and scored 22 points after notching a season-high 23 in a seven-point loss to Syracuse in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game in the Bahamas. The 6-foot-7 swingman was 4 of 18 in his first two games and is 18 of 31 since.
He had 13 points in last season's 72-71 win over the Sun Devils in College Station, while fellow guard Alex Caruso scored a season-high 23.