BOULDER, Colo. – Arizona State seemed to have played its way out of the NCAA tournament over the past two weeks entering a tough road game at Colorado. Now it might be back in following a 63-62 win on a buzzer beater layup by guard Evan Gordon.
The Buffs had only lost five home games since the start of the 2010-11 season and the Sun Devils desperately needed a win after losing three of their previous four, including a game at Utah earlier in the week.
“My heart is racing,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said after a high-altitude celebration with his team in the visiting locker room at the Coors Events Center. “It's huge. I'm really proud of our guys. They played with a lot of poise and composure and a lot of heart. Colorado is an excellent team and obviously they are very special at home here. I couldn't be prouder of our guys.”
While there are still several weeks remaining in the regular season and plenty of basketball to be played before the Pac-12 Conference is decided, the winner of this one figured to have a much better chance than the loser of a top-four finish in the Pac-12 standings and first-round bye in the conference tournament.
There was even more at stake for the Sun Devils considering they had fallen to 81st in RPI after the loss in Utah. Sendek was so happy after watching the winning points drop through the net he said he gave Gordon a big hug and kiss. The Sun Devils improved to 19-7 overall and 8-5 in Pac-12 play with five regular season games remaining.
“It doesn't matter because there is so much basketball to be played,” Sendek said when asked about the importance of earning a valuable road win here for his team's resume. “That will change a million times between now and Selection Sunday. There is so much parity in college basketball. There is so many good teams and nothing separates the teams. So I don't even know how discerning minds with the aid of a computer can split the hairs. Just look at our conference alone and then you multiply that across the nation right now. This isn't an anomaly. This is the rule. This is what's happening night in and night out in college basketball around our country.”
Sendek was asked whether he believes the win at Colorado will repair the damage done to his team's resume over the previous two weeks. Sendek noted that four of his team's five losses in conference play were decided on the final possession of those games.
“I leave that for wondering minds to ponder cause I have no idea.”
It turned into a slugfest on the hardwood. Colorado freshman center suffered a concussion early in the second half when he fell to the floor getting tangled up with ASU's bruising center Jordan Bachynski. Colorado coach Tad Boyle was clearly upset with the way the game was officiated and said so without really saying so afterward.
“Welcome to college football,” Boyle said. “I thought football season was over in December but I guess it is not. That was an unbelievably physical game. ...The most physical basketball game I have ever been a part of in college, high school. It was a very physical game.”
While Sendek might not have been willing to acknowledge his team's desperation coming into Boulder, Gordon was more than willing to. Gordon did not start against the Buffs in a move designed by Sendek to give the Sun Devils some energy and production from the bench. It worked well. He scored 14 points and put his team in a much better position heading into the homestretch of the regular season.
“It was a must-win game,” Gordon said. “Any road win is a big one especially playing here with their home court advantage. Their fans are crazy and we just needed to stick together to get this win.”
Colorado experienced the emotional gamut in 48 hours. The Buffs beat No. 9 Arizona on Thursday and students stormed the court and they fell into the middle of the pack in the conference at 17-8, 7-6 by losing to the Sun Devils.