It was a game full of defensive lapses, lifeless offensive stretches and another bundle of those pesky turnovers but the Sun Devils buckled down when it counted most and won it 60-57 Saturday afternoon over the NDSU Bison thanks to a Carrick Felix buzzer beater. Including the clutch three at the end, Felix finished with a team-high 15 points. The Devils also dominated the glass thanks to a total of 25 rebounds from Kyle Cain and birthday boy Trent Lockett. Taylor Braun was the star for North Dakota State with a game-high 16 points and eight rebounds.
"All and all a good win against a good team that cam in 7-1 today," Head Coach Herb Sendek said. "The guys did a perfect job of executing [the final play]."
And really, the game was all about that final play and shot preceded it. With ASU and NDSU shooting 34% and 36% from the field respectively, there wasn't much to talk about before the exhilarating final minute.
Despite the Bison shooting 14% (3 of 21) from behind the arc, North Dakota State was able to clutch up and hit one when they needed it. Thanks to a couple missed ASU free throws, NDSU was able to tie the game at 57 thanks to a highly-contested Mike Felt desperation heave from downtown.
With the air collectively drained out of Wells Fargo Arena, the Sun Devils regrouped with a timeout and went over a play that Felix says the team practices on a daily basis. Then following a NDSU timeout, former high school quarterback Chanse Creekmur dished a perfect pass to Lockett with only 1.8 seconds remaining. Instead of taking the game winner himself though, Lockett quickly differed to Felix who had a great look from downtown.
"I thought [Lockett] used tremendous basketball instincts to pass to [Felix]," Sendek said. "He might have been able to make a play, but he made a better play."
"I just saw [Felix] spotting up," Lockett said. "That was the play, to find one of our wings."
Felix then proceeded to hit nothing but the bottom of the net on a shot that he called the biggest of his young career.
"I felt like I was going to already make the shot before I even took it," Felix said.
"Carrick's in position to make that shot because of the incredible work he's put into shooting," Sendek said. "He's got to be among the most improved shooters in the country...it was a great play to finish the game."
The Devils would never have had that opportunity though if it wasn't for some key defensive stops in the final minutes. After allowing what seemed like a record amount of uncontested strolls down the lane allowed for a good portion of this contest, ASU held the visiting Bison to one of six shooting in the final three minutes before Felt's game tying shot. Arizona State also made up for their offensive deficiencies by showing a knack for getting to the line in the second half, making 18 of their 23 chances at the charity strike in the final 20 minutes.
All in all, while it was undoubtedly not the prettiest of wins, don't discredit the opponent when evaluating this narrow victory. While North Dakota State may not be a marquee opponent, they're the type of hard-nosed team that you see on CBS in March battling a two or three seeded team to the final buzzer. The fact that Arizona State was able to find a way to win despite not doing a lot of things right is huge for a team still trying to find it's identity. Weeks from now, we might look back at this game as a turning point to the season and it sounds the players might be thinking the same thing.
"I think today we made strides," Lockett said. "Hopefully we can build on this going into winter break."
Other Game Notes:
- After not suiting up Saturday due to disciplinary reasons, Sendek says Chris Colvin's status will be determined moving forward. Sendek on why he was punished: "he didn't participate today due to conduct unacceptable to any team."
- In his return from a hamstring injury, Creekmur had eight points, three rebounds and two threes. Sendek on Creekmur's return: " It was so good to see him knock his first shot down...it was really good for the morale of our team." Sendek also commented on how happy he was to see Creekmur get back to form after beginning the season 4 of 21 from three. "We all know he is a terrific shooter. You don't want to play him in HORSE, believe me."
- Despite having his third straight out of character game, Sendek says he's still not concerned about Lockett. "Not to make an excuse for him, but...he hasn't really practiced [due to groin injury]." Really though, while it wasn't flashy, Lockett still did a great job of fighting for some difficult rebounds and still continues to be the Devils best option on the glass.
- After going 11 of 25 from the free throw line last year, Kyle Cain continues to make strides going 10-14 from the line against NDSU. On the season, Cain is now shooting 76% in that category on the season.