TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)—Washington State prides itself on defense.
The sixth-ranked Cougars were never prouder than Saturday, when they came up with two big stops in the final minute to pull out a 56-55 victory over No. 24 Arizona State.
Derrick Low scored 18 points, all on 3-pointers, as Washington State overcame an early 11-point deficit for a hard-earned split on its trip to the desert.
“We made just enough plays and made just enough stops to win,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said. “I’d be sick if we would’ve lost it. I’m sure Arizona State’s feeling sick about it.”
The Cougars (17-2, 5-2 Pac-10) survived the upset bid when Arizona State’s star freshman James Harden came up short on a drive to the basket at the buzzer. Harden finished with 25 points, his 10th 20-point game.
Then the Cougars survived an angry Wells Fargo Arena crowd. Bennett said his assistant coaches told him that “a couple” Washington State players were hit by debris thrown from the stands as they left the floor. Bennett did not identify the players.
“A couple of our kids did get peppered in the head by water bottles coming off the court,” Bennett said.
“That’s unfortunate. There’s a lot of energy and emotion, but you know, you don’t throw stuff at players. And who knows? Maybe it was trying to go at the official and maybe it dovetailed at him. I hope not. It’s heat of the moment. But nobody got hurt, so we’ll live to fight another day.”
Arizona State athletic director Lisa Love said she would review video.
“We certainly don’t want things to come out of the stands and we don’t want to put anybody at risk,” Love said.
Low bounced back nicely after going just 2-of-9 from the field in a loss at Arizona two nights earlier. He finished 6-of-11 on Saturday, all from behind the arc.
It was the second year in a row that the Cougars escaped Tempe with a one-point victory.
Both teams seemed to have an extra measure of desperation this time.
The Sun Devils (14-5, 4-3) had dropped two straight, including a deflating 72-61 home loss to Washington on Thursday night. Washington State was coming off a 76-64 loss at Arizona two nights earlier.
“Any time you can get a win on the road, you know it’s big-time in this league, so we’ll take it,” Weaver said.
Taylor Rochestie added 13 points for the Cougars, who launched an 18-0 run late in the first half and into the second.
Washington State’s lead grew to 43-32 midway through the second half. And the Cougars seemed to be in command with a 56-48 lead with 2:50 to play.
But the Sun Devils went on a 7-0 run capped by Harden’s driving layup with 1:09 left.
Neither team scored again. Washington State stoned Harden twice in the final 42 seconds.
The first time, Weaver cut off Harden at the free throw line and drew a charge. “I saw the lights,” Weaver said with a smile. “I was on the floor.”
After Rochestie missed on drive to the basket, the Sun Devils gained possession on a jump ball with 8 seconds to go.
Everyone in the crowd of 10,104 knew the ball would go to Harden. He took the inbounds pass, dribbled into the frontcourt and, with time running down, drove into a crowd of defenders under the basket. His shot hit the rim but didn’t come close to going down.
“He wanted it at the end to try to win the game,” Weaver said. “I just tried to stay in front of him and try to make him shoot a tough shot. He got it up. I didn’t even see it go up. I think I got a piece of it. I heard a horn and that was it.”
Low said he was “scared” as Harden bulled into the lane.
“The way the game was going, Harden was initiating contact and had a lot of calls going for him,” Low said. “He’s a good player, so I thought either he was going to make a basket or go to the free throw line. But Kyle played good defense and made him take a tough shot and we secured the rebound.”
Harden said he believed he had been fouled on the play, but made no excuses for missing.
“I wanted the ball,” he said. “Coach drew up the play. We just didn’t come up with the victory. I didn’t come up with it.”
ASU coach Herb Sendek was fuming as he left the floor. But he wouldn’t criticize the officials in his postgame interview.
“We got James, who’s had a terrific half, going hard to the basket,” Sendek said. “He got two feet in the paint, he was at the rim—you guys saw what I saw. We can all put it back up on the screen and look at it.”
The disheartening loss was the third straight for the Sun Devils, who started 14-2. The schedule doesn’t become any easier for Arizona State, which visits No. 8 UCLA on Thursday night.
“We still have our confidence,” Harden said. “Our first two losses, we didn’t play well. Today was just a hard-fought game.”