The Arizona State Sun Devils may have had an disappointing Pac-12 Tournament appearance, but the team looked poised to not let the season end on another sour note.
Taking on fourth-seeded Connecticut in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday, No. 5 ASU put together a 10-0 run to close out the first half, holding the Huskies scoreless for nearly the last five minutes of the period.
Trailing by 13 at the half, the Huskies, who hosted the game, worked their way back to a tie with just under three minutes left in the contest.
However, the Sun Devils, led by senior Shaquielle McKissic, regained their composure after that point, and went on a 9-2 tear to close out the game.
The result was a 68-61 Sun Devils victory, which elicited a few boos toward the home team as the game came to a close. That’s right, the 2013-14 NCAA champions have suffered a first-round exit in the NIT just a year later.
ASU will next face first-seeded Richmond on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. in the NIT’s second round.
Here’s a look at ASU’s NIT road victory, by the numbers:
ASU center Eric Jacobsen played a team-high 39 minutes, and he had one of his better scoring outputs (12 points), but he was only able to pull down one rebound — the third time he’s had such a low total in his last 12 appearances. The Sun Devils, however, won the rebounding battle 31-26. Sophomore forward Savon Goodman ripped down a game-high nine boards.
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ASU had its share of games this season where players struggled to reach double-figures in scoring, but four starters reached the mark Wednesday, led by McKissic’s 22 and Goodman’s 14. Three players had a double-digit scoring output for the Huskies, led by Rodney Purvis with 19.
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Freshman guard Tra Holder shot just 2-for-9 from the floor and finished with four points, the lone ASU starter to not reach double-figures. He has scored only 14 points over his last three games. Holder did, however, tally four rebounds and a team-high four assists Wednesday.
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With ASU’s starters doing most of the heavy lifting on the scoreboard, the reserves only managed a total of six points. Jonathan Gilling, Bo Barnes and Chance Murray were the only Sun Devils to come in from off the bench, and they received a total of 18 minutes of action. Four players came off the bench for the Huskies, combining for a total of eight points.
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McKissic’s 22 points marked his sixth time reaching the 20-point plateau this season, including the third in the last four games. The 6-foot-5 forward hit eight of his 14 attempts, including 3-for-7 from beyond the arc (his 11th multi-three-point game this year), and he had a team-high three steals in the win.
Wednesday marked the Sun Devils’ 13th appearance in the NIT, and the win bumped their overall record in the tourney to 7-12. The team last made the NIT in 2013 as a three-seed, advancing to the second round before losing a close one to Baylor.
The Sun Devils nearly fumbled the game by letting UConn go on a 31-15 run in the second half, watching a 16-point advantage shrink to a tie with 2:42 left to play. McKissic and Goodman took over after that moment to ice the game for ASU.
When McKissic made a three early in the game, the Sun Devils took the lead, which they never relinquished until the final buzzer sounded. That means ASU didn’t trail over the final 33 minutes and 58 seconds of the contest. The game was tied on four occasions, but UConn held the lead for a total of just 2 minutes and 21 seconds in the contest.