There doesn’t seem to be a logical explanation why Jalen Graham played his best basketball when he did.
The 6-foot-9 Mountain Pointe High School product has practiced just a handful of times in the past three weeks and only once in the two weeks before Saturday’s ASU showdown against Colorado due to a non-COVID disease.
He responded with his best outing of the season, totaling 16 points and five rebounds against the Buffaloes.
Graham continued his stellar play, this time hitting a 10-foot right hook with four seconds left to propel the Sun Devils to a 64-62 win over visiting Utah on Monday morning’s Pac-12 at the Desert Financial Arena.
Graham finished with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal, despite ending the streak with four fouls.
Bringing Graham back to the form he showed at the end of last season would go a long way to helping the Sun Devils (6-9, 2-3) generate some momentum with the balance of conference play going forward.
The player had a video call with head coach Bobby Hurley on Wednesday to clear the air, with each reaffirming their faith in the other. This call was to go by video with Hurley still in quarantine after his battle with COVID.
“We talked about how he still believed in me, trusted me, stuff like that,” said Graham, who played his best last season after returning from mononucleosis. “I told him I was going to play harder once I was healthy. We believe in each other. We came to an agreement, an understanding. I like him and he likes me.”
Hurley also acknowledged that the talks seemed to have paid off.
“This kid means a lot to me. He and I have built a great relationship,” Hurley said. “We’ve sat and talked pretty much all season. It hasn’t been easy for him and we’ve both come into this season with high hopes and we haven’t lived up to that. than we had hoped for and it was more of a let’s try to enjoy every moment that we have the rest of the year I could tell in his body language and the way he communicated before the Colorado game and I didn’t I wasn’t even sure he’d be able to play. We made that commitment to each other and he’s more than honored it so far.”
It was a season in which nothing came easy, so it was no surprise that it was yet another game that ultimately ended in execution. This time the Sun Devils delivered.
They trailed by two at half time, 28-26, but bounced back in the second, thanks to a 17-for-32 shooting effort from the field in the final 20 minutes that saw them lead until six points, last at 41-35.
There were six lead changes after that, with ASU going up 62-60 on a Graham layup with a minute remaining.
The Sun Devils played solid defense on Utah’s next possession, only to see bank Utes David Jenkins in a jumper as the shot clock expired to tie the game for the last time, this time at 62. , and set the stage for the match winner. which followed a timeout
“We saw in ball screens that they stayed aggressively with the guard once we got him in,” Hurley said. “So we had a little pocket pass to JG at the elbows. Maybe we would have liked there to be a little less time on the clock when he shot. And we wanted DJ (Horne) in the right corner just because I didn’t I don’t think they would turn away from him and so it worked out well.”
But it wasn’t over yet. The Utes (8-10, 1-7), who hadn’t won a game on the road this season, had one last shot, but with little time. Jenkins had the ball high for the key but was well defended by Heath and the shot was partially blocked.
ASU shot 41.5 percent (27 for 65) for the game, led by Kimani Lawrence’s 18 points and Horne’s 13. The Sun Devils made just three of 12 tries from the line but were helped by a 21-5 points advantage on turnovers and a 36-22 points advantage in the paint.
Utah shot 35.1 (20 for 57) with Jenkins totaling a team-high 14. The Utes were playing without leading scorer Brandon Carlson, a 7-footer who is still sidelined after undergoing an appendectomy.
Hurley went with a new starting quintet of three big men – Lawrence, Alonzo Gaffney and real freshman Enoch Boakye as well as guards Jay Heath and Horne. This left Marreon Jackson off the bench for the first time.
“I wanted to start the game a little bit bigger at the start, I wanted to focus on scoring in the paint,” Hurley said.
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