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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:
Buckets weren't easy to come by but ASU eked out a victory over North Dakota State 60-57 Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Arena thanks to a Carrick Felix buzzer beater. Felix also lead the way for the Sun Devils with 15 points. Kyle Cain and birthday boy Trent Lockett also chipped in 13 and 12 rebounds respectively. Taylor Braun was the high-man for NDSU with a game-high 16 points.
The first half wasn't a particularly pretty one for either team but the Bisons had the shooting edge with at 37% over the Devil's 30.8% despite NDSU's 2-12 shooting from behind the arc. And not much changed after the short locker room intermission, with both teams shooting a combined 3-19 from downtown in the second half. But each team got big threes when it mattered most.
First was NDSU's Mike Felt sinking a highly-contested desperation heave that tied the game at 57 with only 1.8 seconds remaining. The next (and final shot) was Felix's dead-eye deep ball that came on a beautifully drawn-up play from Coach Sendek.
None of that would have been possible though if it wasn't for ASU buckling down and get some much needed stops in the final two minutes despite some terrible defensive lapses earlier in the game. The Devils also dominated NDSU in the rebound category of the box score, totaling 45 including 14 offensive compared to the Bison's 32 total.
The Sun Devil's leader on the court, Trent Lockett, was no where to be found in Wednesday night's 69-61 loss to the visiting Wolf Pack, connecting on only one of his five shot attempts for four points and five rebounds. Carrick Felix and Kyle Cain did all they could to carry the team with 15 and 14 points respectively including a team-high 10 rebounds from Cain but ultimately Deonte Burton's 28 points and execution from the free throw line (draining 13 of his 15 attempts alone) were too much for Arizona State to overcome.
"I was once again disappointed in our team's play this evening," head coach Herb Sendek said post-game. "We've got to be tenacious and simultaneously smart. We were neither."
And that last statement was most evident in the early going. From the opening tip, it seemed that Arizona State were going to have difficult time finding the bottom of the net. That, along with three sloppy turnovers by Keala King had the Devils down by as much as 11 before the 10 minute mark of the first half. Then, seemingly out of no where, ASU turned it on, going on a 13-0 run that helped the Sun Devils to enter the locker room with a 29-27 lead.
"We played with more energy," Sendek said. "The guys played hard for a few minutes."
Arizona State managed to keep that energy up for the opening minutes of the second half, extending their lead by as much as six. But eventually, that pesky turnover problem returned. The Devils committed 10 second half turnovers with King compiling seven throughout the game (a stat that King later apologized for in a post-game tweet).
"We victimized ourselves with inexcusable turnovers," Sendek said. "I've seen dodge ball games at gym class where they take better care of the ball."
Honestly though, even with the 16 turnovers in the game, the Devils still had very good chance at the end to surmount a deficit that was as large as eight with a King three-pointer that cut the lead to 65-61. But some questionable shot selection in the waning seconds cost ASU a chance stealing back the game.
"I thought our shot selection was as bad as it's been all year," Sendek said. "I don't think we played smart basketball."
Despite all those aforementioned issues, one has to wonder if the results of this game could have been different if Lockett just came a few points and boards closer to his season averages entering this game of 16.3 and eight. While this one is by no means all on Lockett's shoulder's this marks his second straight off game in nail-bitter (Lockett had only nine points and four rebounds in last Saturday's win against Tulsa). When asked if the junior guard might be hurt though, Sendek quickly denied that possibility saying "he [just] didn't have his normal game tonight."
What was most frustrating to Sendek though was his team's performance Wednesday night following their big road win against Tulsa (which he called the best win of the season).
"I was really, really encouraged after the Tulsa game," Sendek said. "As good as we were Saturday, we were that much worse today."
Hopefully the Sendek and the boys will be able to take out their frustrations on North Dakota State Saturday evening when the 7-1 Bison roll into town.
Wednesday's game against the Nevada came down to the wire but unfortunately the visiting Wolf Pack left victorious, stealing one from the Sun Devils 69-61. Carrick Felix lead ASU in scoring with 15 points and Kyle Cain chipped in 15 and 10 rebounds in an impressive game of his own. Deonte Burton lead Nevada in scoring with a game-high 28 mostly due to his 13-15 free throw shooting while also adding four steals.
The Devils started out very sloppy from the opening tip, being down by as much as 11 at one point because of their inability to find the bottom of the net. But thanks to a late 13-0 run due to some suddenly inspired play, they were able to head to the locker room leading 29-27.
Then after trading punches for much of the second half, Nevada began to pull away due to an excess of fouls and some poor execution on the defensive glass (gave up eight second-half offensive rebounds). The Devils were able to narrow the gap as close as 65-61 in the final minute with a three by Keala King but ultimately, the deep shots weren't falling from downtown in the closing seconds as Nevada continued to bury their free throws.
The Sun Devils face their toughest challenge on their current five-game home stand when the Nevada Wolf Pack rolls into town Wednesday night.