Late push falls short as Sun Devils edge past Utes in 63-61 loss

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two halves tell a full game story. And while the first half was a back-and-forth battle, the second half, and arguably the most important half, was mostly all Arizona State Saturday night at the Huntsman Center.

Arizona State capitalized on a five-minute scoring drought by Utah to go on a 9-0 run (11-1 run in totality) midway through the second half, and the rest was history ... or so the Sun Devils thought.

Utah erased a 14-point deficit to tie the game up 59-all on a Branden Carlson 3-pointer at the top of the key with 1:04 left in the game. After a pair of made free throws by Arizona State on the ensuing possession, Carlson found Marco Anthony alone under the rim for a dunk to tie it up again with 28 seconds left in regulation.

Utah utilized a full-court press in the final minutes to put pressure on the Sun Devils, which became an effective strategy to limit Arizona State's ability to get good looks on the other end. But a blown coverage by the Utes on the other end of the floor allowed for Arizona State's Marreon Jackson to break free for an easy layup to and a 2-point lead with six second remaining.

Craig Smith's team elected to let the game play out instead of taking their final timeout and Rollie Worster missed a 15-foot jumper on the baseline as the clock expired to seal a 63-61 victory for the visiting Sun Devils.

"When you call a timeout, you allow them to set up their defense; and especially against Arizona State where they can — they're so quick and athletic, I just thought it would be very difficult to get something clean that way," Smith said.

"Incredibly proud of our comeback and how we handled that and gave ourselves a chance to win," he added. "But to win in this league, you've just got to be way more sound for 40 minutes, and I didn't think we we did that consistently for the first 30 minutes of the game."

Utah (11-18, 4-15 Pac-12) made a late push to cut into a 14-point deficit midway through the second half and went on a 7-0 run that got those in attendance believing in a comeback, but Arizona State's Jay Heath had other plans. The sophomore guard hit a 3-pointer out of a timeout to end the short-lived run and then hit another on a following possession to stop any momentum Utah hoped to gain.

The Washington D.C. native finished the night with a team-high 20 points, but his play to neutralize Utah's momentum was a big enough difference to sway the game's result, especially as Utah struggled to put together a consistent stretch on offense and defense for the middle 20 minutes of the game.

"In a game where the emphasis is attacking and getting it inside, we certainly didn't do that," Smith said, speaking specifically about a seemingly lackadaisical first half. "We took the easy way out and only shot one free throw and had zero offensive boards, so that's a real bad formula to have success."

"I just don't think we came as ready to play as we should have, especially for this game," Anthony added. " ... We know that we could play much better than that. And I feel like that showed in that last run we kind of made. And ultimately it didn't end up with the W, but if there is something positive to look at from the game, it's that part."

Arizona State's Jalen Graham added 15 points, four rebounds and two assists, and Kimani Lawrence and Luther Muhammad added 10 points apiece in the win. Muhammad found himself on the losing end of a deadly move by Utah's Lazar Stefanovic that left the Arizona State player on the ground as Stefanovic drained the suddenly open 3-point look.

Anthony started the game with the hot hand and scored 11 of the team's first 20 points and was a big contributing factor to Utah keeping it close with Arizona State in the first half as the rest of the team combined for 21 points.

The senior guard remained engaged in the second half and was key to Utah's late run. He finished with a team-high 19 points and four rebounds. He was joined by Carlson's 15 points and six rebounds as the only two players in double figures for the Utes.

"We were just kind of all over the map with a lot of different things tonight," Smith said. "I thought early in the game Marco really carried us, got us off to a great start on the offensive end.

"I thought we really settled in the first half for easy shots, quick shots — specifically after Marco kind of stopped semi-stopped scoring. Just didn't think we played in attack mode on either end of the floor, quite frankly."

The Utes have a week off before the regular season finale at the Huntsman Center on Saturday, March 5 (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPNU) against the visiting Colorado Buffaloes, who upset No. 2 Arizona Saturday night. Arizona was one of the six top teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 to drop a game Saturday.


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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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