After splitting two games in the Bay Area last weekend Arizona State entered this week best served to sweep Oregon State and Oregon at home. Herb Sendek’s program hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2009, and at this point in the season Jahii Carson and company have put themselves in a spot where one of the goals is to simply avoid losing games they’re expected to win.
And after squeaking out an overtime win over Oregon State on Thursday night the Sun Devils put together one of their best halves of basketball this season against the reeling Ducks. Arizona State shot 68.2% from the field in the first half and 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski took full advantage of a size mismatch in the paint, accounting for 18 points and five rebounds. Closing the half on a 20-5 run, Arizona State held a 20-point lead at the half and looked well-positioned to not only win but deliver a crushing blow as well.
Then, Oregon’s Joseph Young got hot. Scalding hot. The Houston transfer scored 27 points in the second half, and the combination of his offensive excellence with Arizona State failing to execute resulted in a stunning comeback. Oregon would take a 61-59 lead, setting the stage for a tight race to the finish. And in the game’s climactic play there was Bachynski, blocking Young’s reverse layup attempt as time expired to give Arizona State (18-6, 7-4) the 74-72 victory.
Bachynski, who became the Pac-12’s career leaded in blocked shots on Thursday night, finished the game with 26 points, nine rebounds and nine blocks. And this is his second “walk-off” block of the season, as he did the same against Marquette back in November. With Carson (2-for-10 FG, 11 points, 12 rebounds and six assists) and Jermaine Marshall (3-for-11, 12 points) struggling from the field, every point provided by Bachynski and fellow senior Shaquielle McKissic (5-for-7, 15 points) turned out to be needed in the end.
While Oregon (15-8, 3-8) suffered yet another defeat, could Saturday’s comeback be the spark this team so desperately needed? At this stage the Ducks aren’t an NCAA tournament team, with their defensive and interior deficiencies being the reasons why. After seemingly masking those flaws during their 13-0 start, the lack of size and defense is proving to be too much against teams better equipped to exploit those issues. But there are still seven games to be played before the Pac-12 tournament, and the talent is there for the Ducks to be anything but a pushover.
But there’s something to be said for a team’s pride, and Oregon displayed that in the second half as they fought back instead of simply accepting the outcome.
As for Arizona State, the Sun Devils have won five of their last six games and can undoubtedly argue that they’re the third-best team in the Pac-12 (remember, they won at Cal last week). And as a result of this weekend sweep of the Oregon schools, Arizona State has set itself up for a great opportunity next Friday when No. 2 Arizona visits Tempe. A ticket to the NCAA tournament is well within Arizona State’s reach, and for that they can thank Jordan Bachynski.