Ninth-seeded Stanford (16-15, 9-12 Pac-12) defeated the eighth-seeded Arizona State (14-17, 10-11 Pac-12) 71-70 in the opening round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday, highlighted by a buzzer-beater from junior forward James Keefe. Stanford was coming off five straight losses to close out the regular season, including one to Arizona State just last Saturday.
The game started the same way it ended: a Keefe basket inside the paint. This started a back-and-forth scoring affair between both teams until around the halfway mark of the first half, when the Sun Devils found their stride.
Arizona State went on a 7-0 run, securing a seemingly solid lead. With two minutes left in the first half, the Cardinal marched back to make it a one-point game, thanks to freshman forward Harrison Ingram’s jump shot. ASU, however, sank a 3-pointer immediately after Ingram’s bucket. After this score, both the Sun Devils and the Cardinal played exceptional defense, not allowing any points within the final two minutes of the half. The Sun Devils went to the locker room with a 31-27 lead.
Junior forward Spencer Jones had a stellar first half, notching 11 points on four-for-seven shooting, with three of those shots coming from behind the arc. Following him, Keefe scored six points. Stanford shot 11-27 overall in the first half, significantly better than their shooting over the last five games of the regular season. In addition, the Cardinal had a decent defensive performance, forcing nine turnovers.
Stanford played significantly better in the second half, especially when the clock was winding down and their season was on the line. The first part of the second half was similar to the first 20 minutes of basketball in the T-Mobile Arena. The Sun Devils connected on many of their shots, at one point taking a 17-point lead over the Cardinal. Stanford then cut the lead to 10 after going on a 10-3 run, capped off by sophomore forward Brandon Angel connecting from beyond the arc. This run foreshadowed what was to come later in the game.
Following his 3-pointer, Angel was fouled on a 3-point attempt, sending him to the line with three shots. This foul and subsequent three points from the charity stripe ignited a scoring frenzy in Las Vegas. It seemed as if every possession for both teams from then on turned into a score or a foul. The high scoring stretch gave the Sun Devils a 14-point lead with only three minutes left — during which time Stanford asserted its offensive dominance.
Keefe scored a hook-shot jumper that was immediately followed by an Ingram steal on the ensuing ASU drive. On the next Stanford possession, Angel made a layup after snagging two consecutive offensive boards. Jones and Ingram both made more free throws, bringing the game back to within two baskets. After ASU made a free throw, Jones hit a crucial three, bringing the Cardinal to within one point.
What followed was something Stanford fans could only dream about. After a mishandled ball from Ingram, Keefe ended up with the ball with two seconds left on the clock. He heaved up a shot, it bounced off the glass, the buzzer rang, it clanged off the rim and finally fell through the net.
“Honestly, I don’t know what to tell you,” Keefe said. “Harrison [Ingram] was driving, and somehow the ball just bounced right to me, an eight-foot shot right off the glass, just like I practiced.”
The Stanford bench went wild.
The second half was a revelation for the Cardinal, who up until that point had not been playing to the best of their abilities. The team as a whole scored a whopping 44 points, 20 of which came from the paint. 16 of the 44 points came within the final two minutes, when Stanford went on a 16-1 run, shocking the Sun Devils. The team shot 15-34 in the second half alone, topping their first half’s solid shooting performance. In addition to their offensive output, Stanford forced another nine turnovers this half. The Cardinal also out-rebounded ASU 26-17, emphasizing their big and physical play down low.
The Cardinal were led by Jones with an impressive 26-point performance. Following him, Keefe and Angel put up 16 and 15 points, respectively. Both Keefe and Ingram led the team in rebounds, notching 10 each and sophomore guard Michael O’Connell finished with a team-high seven assists.
Next up, Stanford looks to play top-seeded No. 2 Arizona (28-3, 18-2 Pac-12) on Thursday in the quarter-finals of the Pac-12 Tournament, a team they lost to last Thursday. Tipoff is slated for 12 p.m. PT in Las Vegas.