TEMPE, Ariz. — Led by their leading scorer, the Arizona State Sun Devils returned home and put back-to-back road losses behind them in a gritty performance against a desperate team.
Shaquielle McKissic scored 15 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, and the Sun Devils held off Stanford for a 67-62 victory in a late Thursday night matchup that ASU coach Herb Sendek called a “gut-check win” that he was proud to be a part of.
“I thought Shaq led the way offensively for us, but in a game that wasn’t always pretty, I really admired our team’s toughness, competitive spirit and passion,” said Sendek, who displayed more emotion than usual on the bench, even imploring the home fans to get louder in the game’s final minutes.
ASU built a 37-23 halftime lead, but the Cardinal, who are very much on the NCAA Tournament bubble, mounted a rally. An Anthony Brown 3-pointer pulled Stanford even at 47-47 midway through the second half.
That’s when Shaq took over. His 3-point play on ASU’s next possession put the Devils back on top. His ongoing aggressiveness paid off, as he connected on three layups in the final minutes. His final layup with 3:15 to play gave ASU a 58-54 edge.
McKissic ended just one point short of matching his career high of 24, which he set Jan. 30 vs. Oregon.
“Shaq is always best when he’s able to get in the paint and makes some things happen, and he had some great drives there in the second half,” Sendek said.
McKissic also came up big defensively. With ASU clinging to a 3-point lead, he earned a steal off Stanford’s Marcus Allen with 32 seconds to play. McKissic’s four steals were a game-high.
After Savon Goodman was fouled and went 1-of-2 from the line, Bo Barnes picked off Stefan Nastic 10 seconds later and sprinted the other way, drawing a foul on Chasson Randle while connecting on a layup. Barnes hit the free throw to put ASU up 64-57 and seal the win.
The Sun Devils overcame some serious foul trouble, as Goodman and Eric Jacobsen both picked up their fourth fouls early in the second half.
“Our guys battled and found a way. I just was really proud of them tonight,” Sendek said. “We got some key big stops defensively down the home stretch.
“They played hard tonight. They beat a really good team.”
ASU (16-14, 8-9 Pac-12) improved to 6-2 at home in conference play, avenging an 89-70 defeat at Stanford on Jan. 24. The Cardinal (18-11, 9-8) have likely played their way out of the NCAA Tournament picture by losing six of their last nine games.
ASU broke a 21-21 game wide open in the final five minutes of the first half, ending the half on 16-2 run. Goodman had put-backs on consecutive possessions during that run, including a monster two-handed dunk off a Gerry Blakes miss with three minutes to play.
Less than two minutes later, McKissic put together a three-point play that began with an incredible finish at the hoop to bring the crowd to its feet.
Tra Holder led the Devils with 10 points and four rebounds in the first half, and ASU shot 12-for-18 from 2-point range in the first 20 minutes.
The Devils held Stanford to 8-of-27 shooting (29.6 percent) in the first half and 22-of-55 (40 percent) for the game. ASU shot 24-of-50 (48 percent) from the floor.
“We needed this win tonight just like we need every win from here on out,” McKissic said.
ASU did an excellent job in limiting Randle, especially in the first half. The senior guard, who’s averaging 19.4 this season, was held to two points on 0-for-2 shooting from the field in the first 20 minutes. He scored 16 points for the game but went just 4-of-13 from the floor.
ASU outscored Stanford 21-12 on points off turnovers, including 16-5 in the first half.
Once again, the Curtain of Distraction did its job. After Stanford went 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the first half, the Cardinal struggled in the second half, when they had to face the student section and its tactics. The Cardinal went 6-of-10 when facing the curtain Thursday.
The Sun Devils struggled from beyond the arc all evening, connecting on just 3-of-15 3-point attempts for the game.
Stefan Nastic likes playing ASU. The senior center scored 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor in their first meeting, and he had 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting on Thursday. Nastic is averaging 13.6 points per game this season.
STAT OF THE GAME
The Devils dominated the paint Thursday, outscoring Stanford 40-22 for the game in that category, including 22-6 in the first half.
HE SAID IT
“I looked at Brown and he kind of bumped me. It was a hard shove but it was one of those things where I was lucky, I guess.” – McKissic on his wild three-point play in the first half
With Arizona’s win over Cal, ASU became the only Pac-12 team to earn a victory over the eventual conference champions three seasons in a row. The Devils have defeated UA each of the last two seasons, and they beat conference champ UCLA in the 2012-13 season.
There were quite a few Stanford fans at Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday, many of whom went wild for Michael Humphrey, a graduate of Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix. The freshman forward made his only field-goal attempt for Stanford’s first points of the game, but he only saw four minutes of playing time. He would leave the game early with an ankle injury and did not return.
Humphrey came in averaging 3.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game for the Cardinal this season.
The Devils will attempt to end the regular season with a .500 record in conference play when they take on Cal (17-13, 7-10) in a matinee matchup Saturday. ASU destroyed the Golden Bears 79-44 in Berkeley on Jan. 2.
Tip-off is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.