When Arizona State traveled to the McKale Center on Jan. 16, star graduate transfer Jermaine Marshall sat with a groin injury as undefeated Arizona stomped the Sun Devils. Marshall, who arrived from Penn State for one season in Tempe, assured that the Wildcats wouldn't coast a second consecutive time.
Marshall scored eight points in double-overtime and 29 for the night (even after he was held scoreless for more than 15 minutes late in the game) to lead Arizona State in an exciting, if often unsightly 69-66 upset win over No. 2 Arizona on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Tempe.
With strong play from Marshall, point guard Jahii Carson and center Jordan Bachynski, the Sun Devils have won six of their last seven and have this marquee win to boost their tournament resume. The win puts ASU alone in third place in the Pac-12 with an 8-4 record with an opportunity to tie for second if UCLA falls in a potential trap game at Utah on Saturday.
This win wasn't easy or pretty, but it still gave the ASU students an opportunity to rush the court -- even if they were 0.8 seconds early.
After a parade of missed shots at the end of regulation and the first overtime, Arizona and Arizona State finally gained some offensive rhythm with just under two minutes remaining in the second overtime. Aaron Gordon's back-to-back layups gave the Wildcats a tenuous 63-59 lead, but one that felt more secure because of the Sun Devils' abysmal offense. Marshall hadn't scored in 15 minutes, Carson was being kept out of the paint and forced into contested jump shots, and Bachynski was ineffective from inside the paint.
Just as he was drawing criticism on Twitter and by color commentator Bill Walton for not moving enough on offense, Marshall broke his 15-minute dry spell with back-to-back three-pointers to tie the game at 65 with under a minute remaining. After Gordon split a pair of free throws to give Arizona a one-point lead with 36 seconds remaining, the Sun Devils went to Marshall again, who scored his eighth point in a row by driving right at the Wildcats' Nick Johnson and scoring over the guard from inside five feet.
Arizona opted to forego its final timeout and send T.J. McConnell into the lane for a potential game-winning layup, which was emphatically rejected by Bachynski.
That's when matters got a little strange and a bit controversial.
Carson rebounded Bachynski's block and threw down a dunk with 0.5 seconds remaining, prompting the students to rush the court even though the final buzzer hadn't sounded. Carson also hung on the rim in celebration -- a likely technical foul at any other point during the game. This is the second time Arizona endured an overly eager fan base. The 'Cats had to dodge a mob of Cal fans after the Bears' Justin Cobbs hit a game-winning jumper before the buzzer sounded when they lost in Berkeley two weeks ago.
Even though the loss does almost nothing to hurt Arizona's tournament resume, its fans are likely exasperated by not receiving a technical foul in either instance, a likely violation of the letter of the law.
The Wildcats are fine, but there is a common thread in their two losses. Johnson, their leader and a possible contender for the Wooden Award, had a disastrous game in their loss to Cal, shooting 1-for-14 from the floor and turning the ball over five times with only one assist. Friday, Johnson was 5-for-20 overall and 1-for-6 from the three-point line.
Arizona State's win doesn't dramatically alter the Pac-12 race, but it is solidifies its case to play in the NCAA Tournament.