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January 25, 2013
Sun Devils hold off hot shooting Trojans in overtime win
Herb Sendek looked spent and who could blame him.
It was after 11 p.m. when Arizona State's head coach finally arrived in Wells Fargo Arena's media room -- looking a little more disheveled than usual -- to discuss his team's wild 98-93 overtime win Thursday over USC that had concluded minutes earlier.
"No jacket, no tie, just some [body odor]," Sendek deadpanned before breaking into a wide smile. "Are you kidding me? Can you believe what we just witnessed out there? That was incredible. I mean the shots that those two guards were making. I mean, I'm still mesmerized."
The Trojans hit three 3-pointers in the final 22 seconds, including a contested 30-footer by senior guard Jio Fontan to beat the buzzer by a second before coming back to reality in the extra period. ASU improved to 15-4 overall and 4-2 in Pac-12 play while USC fell to 8-12 (3-4).
"It looked like he put the ball somewhere behind his head," Sendek said of Fontan's miraculous -- yet somehow unsurprising -- 3-pointer from seemingly closer to the half court line than 3-point stripe. "I knew he wasn't going to make it when I saw it from [his vantage], but then the way things were going I knew it was in.
"If they're going to make that shot, you're going into overtime."
ASU led throughout the overtime period after forward Jonathan Gilling put it ahead at the foul line with 4:48 left and reserve center Ruslan Pateev hit two critical free throws with 1:38 left that Sendek called perhaps the biggest points of the night.
Its nemesis throughout the season, the Sun Devils failed to put the Trojans away at the foul line in regulation, as freshman point guard Jahii Carson and senior wing Carrick Felix each missed a critical free throw in the game's final 32 seconds.
Carson was otherwise brilliant on the offensive end, with 21 points and eight assists against just three turnovers in the high scoring affair, while Felix had 16 points and 10 rebounds. ASU junior guard Evan Gordon, who has been on a tear the last two weeks after struggling to start the season, had 28 points on 9 of 16 from the field to lead all scorers.
"He's a good player," Sendek said. "I just kept sticking with him early on because I've seen him play in practice all last year. I've seen what he can do. No matter what you do in life, we all go through patches where for whatever reason we're inexplicably not as good as we really are. It was just a matter with him of staying the course because he's good enough."
Gordon's performance was especially critical given the absence for the second game in a row of backup guard Chris Colvin, suspended for a violation of team rules.
"It's a team effort when a guy goes down like that but me specifically I just know I need to step up from the beginning of the year so with a game like this I think I can just keep on building from the last game to the next game," Gordon said.
Even though his starters were logging heavy minutes yet again -- four Sun Devils would finish with more than 40 minutes played -- Sendek said he didn't sense exhaustion or anything other than positivity when Fontan's last second heave hit nothing but net.
"I was so proud of our guys when they came over after regulation," Sendek said. "They immediately gave me confidence because they had great body language, they had tremendous interaction among themselves and they were just ready to go play another five minutes."
Fontan had 25 points for the Trojans and backcourt mate J.T. Terrell had 20 points, as nobody left the arena doubting their marksmenship.
USC was 12 of 18 from the 3-point line at one point in the game, then hit a dry spell before its furious close to force overtime. It finished 15 of 28 from behind the arc with Fontan and Terrell hitting one contested long range bomb after another in their combined 10 of 19 effort from the distance.
Though many of the shots were contested late, Sendek wasn't pleased with his team's defensive performance earlier in the game, which combined with ASU's free throw woes allowed for a thrilling ending that had some fans standing throughout the final minute of regulation and all of overtime.
"I didn't think we were great on defense tonight," Sendek said. "I'm giving them a lot of credit for making tough shots but especially in the first half before some of the amazing shots were made I don't think we were anywhere near good enough on defense."
Less than two weeks after USC fired Kevin O'Neill, interim head coach Bob Cantu had the Trojans playing loose and confident on offense in an up-and-down game that allowed for a high scoring affair.
"It's definitely the type of style we like to play except for them scoring as much as us," Carson said. "It was a fast tempo game. We like teams that try to run up and down with us because that plays into our hands but tonight they were able to compete and stay in the game."
Pateev, the only reserve to log substantial minutes, might have been the key. In addition to his two free throws, he provided good energy on the defensive end and finished with eight points, five rebounds and three blocks in 23 minutes -- one more than starter Jordan Bachynski, who wasn't in foul trouble. Sendek simply preferred Pateev down the stretch and in overtime.
"He didn't get off to the best of starts in his senior year and in fact there were some games where he didn't play," Sendek said. "How easy would it be to throw in the towel? And yet I think he's taught us all great lessons on how to be unconditionally in, how to keep persevering. His two three throws he made down the stretch were as big as any points we had and I don't know that we don't win without him."