In the first meeting between No. 2 Arizona and Arizona State, the Sun Devils were without a key piece. Due to a hip injury, senior guard Jermaine Marshall was held out, and his absence contributed to the Wildcats winning by a comfortable margin in Tucson. Friday night the tables were turned to a certain extent, with Marshall back in the fold while Arizona was playing its third full game without injured forward Brandon Ashley.
And in the end Marshall’s presence made the difference as the Sun Devils beat the Wildcats 69-66 in double overtime, with the Penn State transfer scoring 29 points to lead all scorers. Marshall scored eight of Arizona State’s final ten points, the most important of which came on a layup with 14 seconds remaining to give the Sun Devils a 67-66 lead.
A Jordan Bachynski block led to a Jahii Carson dunk with seven tenths of a second remaining, and when Nick Johnson’s jumper as time expired fell short the Sun Devils had itself an important win for its resume. However the result doesn’t come without controversy, thanks to the way in which the game ended.
Following Carson’s dunk students rushed the floor, and the same went for the players on the bench, with time remaining on the clock. But because the officials deemed the play dead (that was their explanation to the ESPN announcers) no technical foul was called. Of course many also wondered about whether or not Carson should have been hit with a technical foul for hanging on the rim as well. But no calls were made.
In regards to the quality of this game, both teams struggled mightily offensively. Some credit should be given to the respective defenses, and with both teams ranking in the top three in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency (in conference games) that shouldn’t come as a surprise. But on far too many occasions offensive sets came to a halt, resulting in the teams having to hoist up hurried attempts at the end of the shot clock.
Arizona State scored 0.85 points per possession and Arizona was slightly worse as they could muster only 0.83 points per possession. With this being the case whoever could make things happen individually would win the game, and that player was Jermaine Marshall. Marshall was quiet for much of the second half, and that combined with Arizona’s 54-35 edge on the boards could have spelled doom for Arizona State.
However Arizona converted its 18 offensive rebounds into just five second-chance points, and they were also outscored in the paint 28-26. Even with the offensive struggles some credit for this should go to Bachynski, who blocked seven shots and changed other looks around the rim. His block in the final seconds marks the third time this season the senior has preserved an Arizona State lead in the final seconds, and his presence is the biggest reason why Arizona State’s performed well defensively.
Carson received much of the publicity before the season began, and given how well he played as a freshman that’s certainly fair. But for Arizona State to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009, he wasn’t going to lead the way by himself. And due to the presence of Marshall and Bachynski the Sun Devils, provided they take care of business down the stretch, may have punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament.