The non-conference win senior point guard Derek Glasser and his Arizona State teammates knew they needed to get Saturday in order to boost their NCAA Tournament hopes in March nearly evaded them, but ultimately did not.
"For us, losing the Baylor game at home and at BYU like we did, we knew that if we had any shot at making the tournament that we needed this game for our resume," Glasser said. "LSU was a good win for us but other than that we really haven't had any kind of win where you can look at it and say, 'Ok they beat a team that is going to be looked at in March for the Tournament.' This was our last chance before conference so this was a game that was must, must win, and we came away with it so it was good."
The Sun Devils relied on stellar defense throughout, and held off a second half rally to earn a 55-52 win over San Diego State at Wells Fargo Arena.
Glasser's 11 points were crucial, but his five assists will garner the most attention, as the last of the evening allowed him to tie Bobby Thompson's school career record of 454, set in 1987.
"He's the X-factor," junior guard Jamelle McMillan said of Glasser. "Without him this team doesn't operate. Obviously he's made a lot of improvement over the last couple years and without him making the right reads, doing the things he's able to do on the floor, guys like me, guys like even James (Harden) and Jeff (Pendergraph) aren't the players that they are.
"We've got to give a lot of credit to this guy for our success, for their success and they're obviously doing a great job where they are. But to have a guy like this on your team every single day and be able to learn and watch, I couldn't ask for a better teammate."
ASU had an 18-point lead near the midpoint of the second half before San Diego State rallied with a slow developing 24-7 run to cut its deficit to 53-52 with 0:12 seconds remaining, but the Aztecs couldn't score a again, a deep 3-point attempt falling far short at the final buzzer.
"That evaporated really quick. I don't think we played particularly smart," Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek said. "We had a couple shots that didn't go down and would have given us a little breathing room. I though Rick (Kuksiks) had a couple looks at the rim that he could have made. They really played well, they tightened down on us. During that stretch we were trying to milk some time because Eric (Boateng) had four (fouls), Rick had four and Derek was hoping around with [a sprained ankle] as best he could."
A rebounding deficit of 15 and poor foul shooting hurt the Sun Devils throughout, but their defense held steady, forcing 24 steals.
"The turnover differential for us was a real advantage and without it we don't win the game," Sendek said. "We only shot 36 percent. Especially in the first half we left a lot of points out there: point blank layups; open [3-pointers]. Our guys still focused enough on defense to squeak out a 6-point (halftime) lead."
ASU trailed 18-15 with 5:21 left in the first half before a 13-4 run to close the period, including a Ty Abbott 3-pointer to cap the surge.
Abbott matched Glasser with 11 points while Kuksiks and McMillan had 12 points apiece to lead the Sun Devils' balanced scoring efforts. But it was the other end of the floor they were most proud of.
"I think it shows a credit to our defense," Glasser said. "That's what we're going to have to pride ourselves on if we're going to make a run at the tournament this year, being able to hold teams in the 50s and low 60s and we've done that so far this year and I think that's how we got the win tonight, defensively."