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January 24, 2014

Sun Devils earn gritty win over Utes

As the shot rolled around the full length of rim, a lot more than three points potentially hung in the balance.

A miss could have led to a different outcome, one that would have put Arizona State in a three game spiral and its season aspirations in serious jeopardy.

However, having not missed a shot all night, junior forward Jonathan Gilling had everything going his way, and a ball that probably should have never touched the bottom of the net did.

Against a pesky Utah Utes team, Gilling's key three-pointer with 1:43 left in the game helped yield a much-needed 79-75 win for ASU at Wells Fargo Arena.

ASU improved its record to 14-5 overall, 3-3 in the Pac-12 while Utah dropped to 14-5 overall, 3-4 in the Pac-12 and 0-4 away from its home at the Jon M. Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Gilling, who lost his starting spot to sophomore forward Eric Jacobsen, was perfect from the field. He finished with 13 points on 5 of 5 shooting, including three three-pointers. Gilling's six assists in the first half alone greatly benefited what otherwise was tough night for ASU's offense as a whole.

"I thought Jon Gilling really responded to coming off the bench exceptionally well," ASU head coach Herb Sendek said. "I thought he really competed on defense, moved the ball exceptionally well on offense…and the icing on the cake was the big three he hit down the homestretch."

Gilling wasn't the only positive of the night as the Sun Devils got back on track in the Pac-12.

Sophomore point guard Jahii Carson found his recently absent scoring rhythm and made big shots down the stretch when they counted most. In the final five minutes, Carson scored eight of his 23 points, going 10 of 22 from the field overall and collecting eight rebounds.

"That time when I wasn't being myself, I just wasn't hitting shots," Carson said. "You know, there's time when guys don't hit shots and they don't play the way they are capable of playing, but I've tried to be positive and have a great spirit and keep working hard and just being humble, listening to everything coaches have to say and just keep attacking. If I didn't shoot the basketball I wouldn't be able to score so I just kept attacking and just kept working hard everyday and finally I've been slowly getting out of it."

Despite numerous missed layup attempts and free-throws -- 3 of 8 from the line -- by Carson during the game, Carson never backed down and went to the rim with the same ferocity as he had the multiple times before.

"I've said all along, I haven't been around many athletes who have the level of confidence as he does," Sendek said. "He's not one of these guys that if something goes south, his confidence dissipates. He just has supreme confidence in himself and that's what you got to have to make those kind of plays."

Another highlight for this growing ASU team was junior wing Bo Barnes. Barnes played 28 minutes, scoring nine points and making two three-pointers in his most significant performance as a Sun Devil.

Against Arizona and especially in practice in recent weeks, Barnes had made a strong impression on the ASU coaches and players that generated the playing opportunities.

"Bo has a great motor," Carson said. "He's a tough kid, a quiet kid and he just wants to help the team win. When he comes out and is able to defend multiple positions, stretch the floor, and when him and Jon are on the floor together and they are able to create that much space and able for me to operate, it's huge for us."

While Barnes got his chance to prove his abilities on the court, senior center Jordan Bachynski got to face off against his brother, Utah junior center Dallin Bachynski.

Jordan Bachynski got the best of the matchup.

Before fouling out late in the second half, the ASU starting center ended the game with a double-double, his tenth of the season, scoring 11 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and swatting four shots away.

Helping Jordan Bachynski down in the paint was Jacobsen, who got the second start of his career. Jacobsen only ended the game with four points, but at points throughout the game, his defense down low made shots hard to come by for Utah in the paint.

"I think Eric (Jacobsen) is a phenomenal player," Jordan Bachynski said. "He finishes, especially in practice, he finishes really well around the rim. He's a big body, he's really strong and we saw it the first play of the game. He posted up (Utah sophomore forward Jordan) Loveridge and just went to work. He's a great player, I love playing with him and I mean we did really well on the boards…it opens up the floor a lot more and we can get a lot more ball screens, Jahii can get a lot more open, I think it works well for us."

While Utah opened the game with the hot hand, especially from three-point range, ASU kept it close throughout the first half by taking care of the basketball and limiting second chance opportunities.

The game was tied 17-17 with 11:53 left in the first half, but a feverish 9-0 run gave Utah its biggest lead of the game.

ASU seemingly had no response for Loveridge, who had 12 points in the first half alone, shooting 5 of 8 from the field, 2 of 4 from behind the arc, making a number of shots despite being well defended.

While Utah lead 41-37 at half, Carson led all scorers with 13 points, but was only 1 of 5 from the free throw line.

Utah shot 58 percent from the field and made 5 of 9 three-pointers in the first half. Utah only averaged 6.6 three-pointers per game coming in. ASU was 13 of 27 from the field and was 3 of 9 from behind the arc.

Both teams had five turnovers at half, but ASU only had two fast-break points, making the game solely a half-court affair.

ASU started the second half on a 9-4 run, but then Carson and Jordan Bachynski both quickly picked up their third personal fouls. However, due to their smart play, they continued to stay on the court and it wasn't until less than four minutes left when Bachynski got his fourth foul.

With the first of their two home games this week behind them, ASU looked forward to Saturday's game against Colorado at home.

"A great win is just as tough as a tough loss because it's all about how you respond," Bachynski said. "We need to come with the same intensity tomorrow as we have all week."

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