Carson scores 34 as ASU pulls out OT victory
LAS VEGAS — As a kid, Jahii Carson heard he was disadvantaged.
“They said I was height-disabled,” said the 5-foot-11 Carson.
That could not help but draw chuckles Wednesday, after Carson put on a remarkable show in ninth-seeded Arizona State’s 89-88 overtime victory over Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at the MGM Grand Garden.
Carson scored a career-high 34 points, including the first five in overtime, in a game that set a standard for the rest of the Pac-12 to match this week and pushed the Sun Devils into a quarterfinal game against UCLA on Thursday at noon.
For Carson, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. It makes the national highlight reels.
Included in the array: An aggressive driving bank shot and free throw for a 68-65 lead with 4:04 remaining in regulation, followed on the next possession by a 360-spin and layup through the lane. His 3-pointer from the left wing put ASU (21-11) ahead by six with 2:12 left.
And that was just one stretch — he was 14 of 22 from the field, made three 3-pointers, had four assists, three rebounds and committed just three turnovers in 43 minutes.
“You’re fortunate if you have a Jahii Carson. There are not many Jahii Carsons out there,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, a former NCAA champion guard at Duke.
Said Arizona State teammate Evan Gordon: “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ I’m not the only one shocked out there.”
Carson was ably supported. Carrick Felix had 19 points and 12 rebounds, his 13th double-double of the season. Jonathan Gilling had 14 points, and Gordon had 16 off the bench, playing 28 minutes as coach Herb Sendek opted early to go to a small lineup that featured three guards and two small forwards to counteract mobile Stanford big men Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis.
Carson had his second 30-point game of the year and fell one point shy of Mario Bennett’s school freshman record.
The bigger the game …
“I just try to come up big on big stages," Carson said. "I know my teammates look a lot for me to create for them and create for myself. I just try to go out there and make big plays. It’s good that coach lets me push the basketball and keep the defense occupied. My teammates hit open shots today, and that allowed me to create for myself as well."
The competitive drive has always been part of his game.
“I always had a chip on my shoulder growing up," he said. "People call me disabled because of my size on the basketball court. I just use that to my advantage. I try to attack the paint, fearless. I just try to go up and score and make big plays. Then if the defense collapses, just find the open guy.
“I try to play basketball the right way. I never try to be selfish. I just try to take what the defense gives me. That’s the way I’ve played my whole life.”
Regular-season champion, No. 1 seed and No. 21-ranked UCLA (23-8) awaits, but the Sun Devils match up well with the Bruins. UCLA features point guard Larry Drew II and three freshman starters, including Shabazz Muhammad, who shared Pac-12 freshman of the year honors with Carson.
“They're a tough team," Carson said. "They have a lot of the strong weapons. But I think we come out with the same mentality we came out with today, the same energy, the same toughness, I think we can control that game and control the tempo. We come out with a victory if we come out with the same mentality we had today."
It remains to be seen how Arizona State will line up against the Bruins after beating them by 18 at Wells Fargo Arena and losing in overtime at Pauley Pavilion two weeks ago. Center Jordan Bachynski played only eight minutes Wednesday because of matchup issues against Powell, and UCLA does not have a true post player, either.
ASU went small for the final 14 minutes of its regular-season matchup with Stanford, cutting a 15-point deficit to three before losing 62-59. This time, they went small a lot earlier.
“When we played at home we probably didn't do it soon enough, so with that experience in the back of our mind, we still tried to start conventionally, but quickly decided it would be in our best interest to try some other matchups,” Sendek said.
So Felix guarded Powell and 6-3 guard Chris Colvin played 6-7 Huestis most of the way. Powell had 23 points and Huestis 17, but neither had a double-double as they did in the first meeting.
ASU maintained a lead for most of the second half, even with Stanford's Aaron Bright (27 points, six threes) on a roll. The Sun Devils led by eight, 75-67, when Gordon made two free throws with 1:26 remaining.
But Stanford outscored ASU 12-4 down the stretch, getting 3-pointers from Bright and Huestis and sending the game into overtime on Bright’s four-point play with 38.5 seconds remaining. Bright hit a 3-pointer from the left wing while being fouled by Gilling, then hit the free throw to tie it at 79.
“It did hurt that he did hit that shot,” Carrick Felix admitted. “I mean, it took a lot out of us, but we knew at the end of the day we just need to stay together and just go out in overtime and do the same thing we did in the first half and second half, just play and compete.”
After Powell scored the first basket of overtime, Carson hit a 3-pointer from the right wing and a driving left-handed layup on consecutive possessions for an 84-81 lead, and Gordon cemented the victory — and broke Stanford’s six-game series winning streak — with five free throws in the final 26.8 seconds.
“In a lot of ways this game almost typified our season," Sendek said. "First, it was close. Second, it went to overtime. And third, I thought our guys once again just played with a lot of heart."