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ASU erases 22-point deficit, edges out Arizona in second half

Arizona State guard Remy Martin (1) celebrates with mascot Sparky, cheerleaders and fans after an NCAA college basketball game win against Arizona Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Arizona 66-65. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — They call basketball a game of runs.

No matter the score, there’s always a chance to get back in it.

That seemed to be the mentality for the Arizona State Sun Devils, who clawed their way back from a 22-point deficit to knock off the Arizona Wildcats 66-65 on Saturday night.

“It was a pretty special night out there,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game. “Wasn’t shaping up that way early but it shows a lot of heart. We’ve been in a lot of tough games this year and showed our will, determination, grit to stay in the fight, stay in the battle. I’m just super proud of our performance tonight.”

The rivalry was alive and well at Desert Financial Arena and the second edition of the Duel of the Desert did not disappoint.

Both squads came out with some added fire, each draining their first 3-point attempts of the game and looking like the tilt would be a back-and-forth affair.

That was until senior guard Rob Edwards and junior forward Romello White went to the bench.

With two of the three top scoring threats on the sideline, Arizona went to absolute work on ASU.

Unloading with a 25-4 run over the home team, freshman point guard Nico Mannion and the Wildcats quickly turned a 10-9 deficit into a 37-15 advantage, ripping the air right out of the arena in the process.

During the nearly five minutes of Arizona’s run, ASU struggled in almost every facet, unable to manufacture much of anything on either side of the court. The Sun Devils went ice cold, missing eight of their 10 shot attempts and turning the ball over twice in that span.

But before the boo birds came out in full force — or headed for the exits — ASU provided a much-needed spark to close out the first half.

Erasing the 22-point disadvantage, guards Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge Jr. carried the load for the Sun Devils, scoring the team’s last eight points of the half and ending the first 20 minutes on a 6-0 run to bring the score to a more manageable mark at 43-30.

“The way we finished in the first half was pretty key, they had it to [a 22-point lead] at some point but it was around 19 at the under [four-minute mark] and then we were able to cut it to 13,” Hurley said. “It was a manageable margin at that point, we had some momentum going into the locker room.”

While it was only a fraction of the first half, that one-minute spark the Sun Devils possessed turned into an electrical storm in the second half. The team erupted out of the gates, using a 10-0 run to cut Arizona’s lead from 13 to just three in the matter three and a half minutes.

On the other side, Arizona’s high-scoring offense went mute, failing to score from the 1:40 mark in the first half to the 15:24 mark in the second. The Wildcats missed their first five shots of the second half.

Even though the Sun Devils caught fire in a big way, ASU still couldn’t figure out a way to take that elusive lead away from Arizona. Looking like the start of the first half, the two sides went back and forth like prize fighters. It was ASU, however, that possessed the knockout punch. From 13:43 to 5:06, ASU could not get over the hump, getting the score to even twice, but never in the lead.

That all changed after an offensive rebound, courtesy of sophomore forward Taeshon Cherry, turned into a Martin layup. The lead the Sun Devils lost with 13:33 in the first half was suddenly back with just four minutes to go.

The last four minutes was anything but calm, as the two sides saw seven lead changes, setting the stage for the shot of the game.

After regaining the lead with just 1:41 left to play, the Wildcats fouled freshman forward Jalen Graham. Knocking in one of two free throw attempts, Graham cut the lead to just a point. The Sun Devils defense stepped up in a big way on the other end, forcing forward Stone Gettings to launch his only 3-pointer of the game and giving ASU one last chance to get its revenge over the in-state rival.

Mission accomplished.

Setting up a play for Edwards, the Sun Devils went for the dagger with 31 seconds left. The Wildcats, however, had a jump on the play, shutting down Edwards near the key and forcing the guard to look to Verge to help reset the offense for one last shot.

Standing on the Sun Devil logo on the court, Verge looked for the open man. But instead of passing the rock, the guard took it himself, blowing by one defender and splitting two more at the rim for the bucket.

“Rob didn’t force anything or take a bad shot and he got it to Zo and the court was wide open,” Hurley said of the last play on offense. “You could see that there were driving lanes available and his eyes probably lit up when he saw that and he’s got a great handle, he’s a playmaker. He went out and made a big play.

Even then, the Wildcats still possessed a chance to take home the win. With 10 seconds left, Mannion looked to freshman guard Josh Green in the middle of the key for the buzzer beater. But instead of getting met with applause from the Wildcat crowd, Green was met head-on by two ASU defenders, eliminating any kind of shot attempt and giving the Sun Devils the one-point win.

Five of Arizona’s six losses have come by single digits, while ASU’s put together two straight wins and a 3-3 Pac-12 record.

Leading the way was Martin, who turned in yet another solid performance for the Sun Devils. He dropped a game-high 24 points to go along with four assists and two steals. Edwards and Verge Jr. combined for 28 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. Freshman forward Zeke Nnaji dropped 21 points and 10 rebounds for Arizona, while Mannion added another 16.

The Sun Devils have now won 24 games after being down at halftime under Hurley.

The win over Arizona is satisfying, but for Hurley, he wants to see the team use the success of the last two games as a springboard for the rest of the season.

“This can’t be the top of the mountain this year, we have to try to make a surge off of this, and getting to .500 in the league with the schedule we’ve had is pretty good. We’ve knocked out a lot of really hard games on our schedule, so we need to keep getting better and hopefully we’ll do that next week.”

Up next, the Sun Devils travel to take on the Washington State Cougars. Catch all the action on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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