There’s a chance Arizona State will be blown out a few times once conference play begins next week. When it falls behind by a dozen or so points at home this season, do not — repeat, do not — leave the building. Because these Sun Devils possess whatever it is that allows teams to rally from big deficits late.
They proved it again Friday when they rallied from 20 points down to make a game of it before falling 75-70 to Davidson in the championship game of the Sleep America Classic at Wells Fargo Arena. The loss concluded the nonconference portion of the Sun Devils’ schedule – a portion that coach Herb Sendek referred to as “a continuous learning journey.”
One thing observers have learned is that ASU (6-5) will probably not win many games once Pac-10 play begins next week. They also learned that the team at times may be down but rarely out because it has that intangible something – Sendek believes it’s character – that allows it to mount great comebacks.
If you’re thinking, “Well, it’s Davidson, they should come back against the smallest school in Division I,” then you should know that Davidson (11-3) is a pretty good squad.
The Wildcats lost seven seniors off a team that went to the NCAA tournament last year, but they arrived for Friday’s game having won six straight and counting only losses at Michigan, Missouri and Duke.
And ASU once again exhibited the ability to fight back from long odds that won it a victory over Iowa and nearly netted another at Minnesota.
Following Friday’s game, sophomore Jeff Pendergraph was asked the difference between the situation at the start of the comeback that led to a win and that at the beginning of the comebacks that ended in losses.
“They’re all the same,” he replied. “They shouldn’t happen.”
Are the deficits a mental thing?
“I think so,” he said.
Davidson led 65-45 with 8:25 to play when ASU made its run.
Taking advantage of their opponents’ bad free-throw shooting (9 of 17) and tired legs from a late Thursday night game, the Sun Devils scored 10 straight points that spurred a 25-8 run.
ASU trimmed the score to 73-70 with 25 seconds remaining, but failed to convert on its final two possessions.
Serge Angounou scored 12 points in the run. Angounou and Pendergraph each finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
Once Angounou started the comeback, Christian Polk, who had struggled offensively in his previous three games, came to life to score nine of ASU’s last 15 points. He was just 4-for-17 from the field in the game, but he was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
Polk ran out of magic in the end.
From the time ASU climbed within four points with 1:45 remaining, Polk missed three shots that would have gotten the team within a single possession.
The Sun Devils’ only field goal in the final 1:45 was Derek Glasser’s layup that made the score 73-70.
“It finally hits us at the end that we can play with these teams,” Pendergraph said. “If we would just do what we’re told and play defense and grind hard we can win and we can come back. It just takes us too long.”