Suddenly, the season seemed in jeopardy. That seems odd to consider during the second week of January, but in just a few weeks Arizona State basketball had shifted from national-media darling to the nation’s final unbeaten team to …
Oregon State on Saturday opened a 13-point, second-half lead and the No. 11 Sun Devils were staring at a second consecutive home loss and a spot near the bottom of the Pac-12.
Shannon Evans didn’t let it happen.
Scoreless in the first half, the explosive senior guard scored 22 points in the second to lift ASU to a 77-75 win over the Beavers in front of a lively, and at times nervous, crowd of 13,459 at Wells Fargo Arena.
Coach Bobby Hurley called ASU’s performance “courageous.” He said the Sun Devils showed resilience and determination, especially with top scorer Tra Holder struggling and Evans initially too caught up in Oregon State’s zone defense.
Two days after losing to Oregon, ASU improved to 14-3 and 2-3 in the Pac-12. Oregon State dropped to 10-7 and 2-3.
“The mark of a winning team is guys stepping up,” Hurley said.
No one did so more than Evans.
Evans scored his 22 points on just 34 second-half possessions. In addition to his scoring, he produced six rebounds, seven assists and two steals with just one turnover in 37 minutes. Evans shot 7 of 11 from the field, 3 of 4 from 3-point range and 5 of 6 from the foul line. His only miss at the stripe gave Oregon State a final chance to win, but Tres Tinkle missed a contested 3 at the buzzer.
“Our D unfortunately went South on us,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said.
The blueprint to beat ASU is out – zone them. Colorado did it, Oregon did it. And Oregon State was on its way to doing it, and it clearly was starting to get in the Sun Devils’ heads.
Late in the first half, Hurley noticed Evans’ body language wasn’t great. Like all scorers, Evans wants opponents to pick him up man to man so he can showcase his quickness and playmaking talent. Zone complicates everything.
During a timeout, Hurley told Evans in so many words to knock it off. Stop standing around. Get aggressive. Get in the lane.
“We care about each other a lot,” Hurley said of his relationship with Evans. “I can say tough things to him and he’s not going to take it personal. It goes both ways. He could say something I may not like and I’m good with that.”
After missing his only shot in the first half, Evans hit his first three attempts in the second. The last one was important. With Oregon State leading 50-38, Evans fired from the left wing. His 3-point attempt hit the front of the rim, bounced up, hit the front of the rim again, bounced to the back, rolled and then dropped.
“That’s the basketball gods,” Evans said. “They were rewarding me for being in the gym so much. When you see one bounce around like that and roll in, you feel like it’s meant to be.”
Even so, Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson swished a 3 for a 57-44 lead with 11:32 to go. Evans, however, dished to Kimani Lawrence for a dunk, triggering an 11-0 run. Evans had four points, two rebounds and two assists during the stretch. He wasn’t finished.
With three minutes left, Evans scored four straight points to pull the Sun Devils within 68-67. Ninety seconds later, he stripped Tres Tinkle and buried a 3 for a 73-68 lead.
“Shannon was in attack mode; he wasn’t going to let us lose,” Hurley said. “His 3 reminded me of the shot he hit at Kansas (late in the game). In a possession game – not a wide-open game – he was as efficient as you can be.”
Kodi Justice added 14 points. Junior De’Quon Lake – playing in place of starter Romello White down the stretch – had 11 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. It helped overcome Holder’s worst contest of the season. The senior guard totaled just four points on 1-of-9 shooting.
“We may not be playing exactly like we were earlier in the season,” Hurley said. “And I know that you go through different parts of the year where that’s going to be the case. We just got to push through the tough times. I know that we’re going to respond.”
Contact Doug Haller at 602-444-4949 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/DougHaller.