For the Arizona State Sun Devils men’s basketball team the struggle has been real. A program that has been mired in mediocrity for years has had energy infused into them with the hire of Bobby Hurley in the past year. A team takes on the persona of their coach and this year’s version of the Sun Devils men’s basketball team has done just that. On Thursday night, in Tempe, the Sun Devils showed that energy in a 78-77 win over the Colorado Buffaloes.
With a record of 8-7 coming into the Colorado game, the Sun Devils were hungry for another Pac-12 win. Arizona State had returned home from a trip to the Bay Area in which they split the games with California and Stanford. They beat Stanford and lost to California.
The Sun Devils started off the game going 0-4, Colorado shot out to an early lead, and the late arriving crowd didn’t seem to be into the game. The slow start for the Sun Devils was not going to be the theme for the game.
The theme for this game for the Sun Devils was tough and gritty. The Sun Devils have to fight for everything that they get on the court. Arizona State doesn’t have the talent that other teams have to just go out and take control from the beginning.
Colorado wasn’t willing to take control of the game either. The lead for either team never got any higher than eight points. This was a competitive game from the tip of the ball. This game was going to come down to who was going to make the plays when they needed to be made.
The game took on a whole new vibe once Jethro Tshisumpa of Arizona State and Xavier Johnson of Colorado were ejected for fighting with 1:27 left in the first half. From that point on, the crowd was into the game, the players were more focused, and the vibe turned a little more physical.
Colorado got the worse end of the ejection. Xavier Johnson is the second leading scorer on the season for the Buffaloes. At this point in the game Johnson had 13 points and was playing well. On the other hand, Jethro Tshisumpa who is a true freshman, with limited skills at this point, had two points and three blocks.
“They lost a player in the first half, we lost a player in the first half. I think our player was a little more important to us than theirs was to them. I didn’t see the play, but I will look at it.” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said.
“It’s a learning lesson for Jethro and I’m sure for their player as well.” Coach Hurley said of his Sun Devil player.
Once halftime was over, the game was a game of lead changes and free throw shooting.
The Sun Devils were led by Torian Graham and Shannon Evan II who both had 18pts. Obinna Oleka had a solid game with his ninth double-double that included 15pts, 10 rebounds.
Tra Holder, the point guard, who is the straw for the Sun Devil drink struggled from the floor. Holder was 3-14, only had three assists, but made his free throws when needed.
Holder had stayed after practice on Wednesday to shoot free throws imagining himself in a high pressure situation. Oh, the irony.
As the lead changed hands 17 times, it was becoming quite obvious that whoever had the ball last was going to win the game.
In the last two minutes of the game, the lead changed five times, with the Sun Devils having the last shot at winning the game. Torian Graham got his three point jumper off, but Tra Holder grabbed the rebound in the air and tried for the put back basket. Holder’s attempt did not drop, but he got fouled by Derrick White of Colorado.
The foul by White put Tra Holder in the exact position he had spent after practice training for. Holder stepped to the line and calmly made both free throws with 1.6 seconds left. The extra practice put the Sun Devils at 9-7 and 2-1 in the Pac-12. The first 2-1 start for the Sun Devils since the 2013-2014 season.
What it also may have done is given this Arizona State program a much needed shot in the arm of confidence. If the Sun Devils play against the rest of the Pac-12 like they did on Thursday night, good things are going to happen.