Arizona State entered the week on a two game slide and in desperate need of a pair of wins on its home court in order to keep its postseason goals alive. After capping off its home sweep of Utah and Colorado with a resounding 72-51 over the Buffaloes, the Sun Devils now find themselves riding a wave of momentum as they get set to hit the road once again.
ASU used an 8-0 run to erase an early deficit and charge ahead to a seven point lead with 11:56 to go in the first half, led by the effort of sophomore Eric Jacobsen. Jacobsen, who made his second straight start of the season on Saturday, sparked the Sun Devils on both ends of the floor, recording six points and six rebounds in the first half.
"It was a must-win series for us," said sophomore Jahii Carson after the game. "We needed to come out and get two wins. We knew we have a tough road coming up against Cal and Stanford so this is great momentum for us coming off two wins. Hopefully we can carry the momentum up and keep our good energy next week during practice."
The Sun Devils took an 11-point lead into intermission and refused to let up in the second half.
Carson, who scored his 1,000th career point in the first half, added 11 of his game-high 18 points in the second half as the Sun Devils overwhelmed Colorado (15-6, 4-4 Pac-12), extending their lead to as many as 25 points late in the contest.
Arizona State (15-5, 4-3) shot just under 49 percent from the field on Saturday but made nine three point baskets and shot a collective 17-21 from the free throw line in the win.
"I think we were just all together in a better flow," added Carson, who added six assists and four rebounds and was one of just two Sun Devils in double figures scoring. "Everybody was in a good flow with each other and everybody was trying to get the win and everybody wants to feel the wealth. I think we did a good job of hitting the open man and not being selfish."
Junior Jonathan Gilling came off the bench for the second consecutive game and continued his blistering pace, scoring 12 points on 4-5 shooting, including a perfect 4-4 from behind the three point line. He and Bo Barnes, who scored seven points in 19 minutes, anchored a Sun Devil bench that outscored Colorado's 24-7, providing the Sun Devils with some much needed offensive depth in the team's two wins this week.
"In Jon's case, I don't want him relaxed. He's better on edge and that's one of my great challenges, to keep him on edge," said Head Coach Herb Sendek. "Among the many, many mistakes I've made, one of them would be that I didn't have him come off the bench earlier in his career and I screwed up by having him start all those games, because he hasn't missed yet since he's come off the bench."
For a second straight game, Sendek opted to go with a taller starting line-up, inserting Jacobsen at the power forward position alongside center Jordan Bachynski. Combined, the two front-court players finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks while providing the Sun Devils with a +5 advantage in rebounding against the long, athletic Buffaloes.
"I think Eric's improvement, his progress, and his play is really helping our basketball team right now," commented Sendek. "He's such a smart player, a tough player, and you can see his confidence growing and as that continues to happen, I expect him to stay on a really good path."
Senior Jermaine Marshall showed signs of improvement as he continues to recover from a groin injury, adding eight points on 3-7 shooting while Shaquielle McKissic totaled seven points, six rebounds, and five assists.
Arizona State didn't just enforce its will on Colorado on the offensive end though. The Sun Devils stifled a Buffalo offense that entered the night averaging better than 74 points per game. But playing without starting point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who suffered a torn ACL on January 12th against Washington and will miss the remainder of the season, Colorado struggled to find its rhythm offensively, committing 19 turnovers on the night.
The Buffaloes were led by Xavier Johnson's 12 points but shot just 42% from the field and an even worse 2-11 from three point range. Of course, Colorado didn't do themselves any favors by only shooting 9-24 from the free throw line.
"We knew that they only have one threat, really, that's a three point shooter and that's (Askia) Booker," said Carson. "So we tried to not help on him too much and just tried to play with great intensity on the defensive end and not let them get any shots off. I think we played good pack defense and that's one of the things that's helping our identity is playing good pack defense."
Colorado has now lost four of its last five games after beginning the season 11-1 with wins over Kansas and Oregon, both top ten teams at the time.
Arizona State will look to cure its road woes next week when the visit the Bay area in yet another critical series for the Sun Devils and their postseason hopes. ASU takes on California on Wednesday at 9:00 pm MT on ESPNU before visiting Stanford on Saturday.