McClatchy News Service
PULLMAN — There have been times this season, too many for Washington State’s liking, when the Cougars simply didn’t execute well enough to procure victory from a back-and-forth basketball game.
Maybe Thursday night’s 63-59 heartbreaker against Arizona State was just the latest in a frustratingly long line of those coulda-woulda-shouldas.
Or, maybe it’s just an example of what happens when the best player on the floor starts making plays. And doesn’t stop.
Jahii Carson, ASU’s ultra-quick freshman point guard, scored 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, including two crucial baskets in the final 1:33 to lift the Sun Devils past the Cougars before 4,728 at Beasley Coliseum.
Thing is, this was a tightly contested affair despite Carson’s second-half dominance. WSU led, 51-50, with 5 minutes remaining, before Carrick Felix sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a Carson floater to put ASU ahead 58-51 with 3:34 remaining.
WSU stormed right back, using a 3-pointer and a driving layup by Royce Woolridge to tie the score at 58-58 with 2:05 remaining.
ASU even missed its next shot. But after Brock Motum grabbed the rebound, he fell to the floor, and after Felix retrieved the ball and flipped it to Carson, the ASU guard slashed to the hoop and scored while being fouled.
He made the free throw, and ASU led 61-58 with 1:33 to play.
Motum actually was fouled on WSU’s next possession, and he made one free throw to trim ASU’s lead to two.
The Cougars fouled Carson with 1:01 to play. He missed both free throws. ASU’s Justin Gilling grabbed the rebound, but Gilling was tied up, a jump ball was called and the possession arrow favored WSU.
With a chance to tie, Mike Ladd attempted a jump shot from just beyond the free-throw line. He missed, and the Sun Devils rebounded with 45 seconds to play.
WSU (11-10, 2-6 Pac-12) chose to play defense instead of foul. That meant it was Carson time. He dribbled by himself in the corner near the midcourt line, using most of the shot clock before starting his motion toward the basket.
Dexter Kernich-Drew guarded him. He spotted an ASU player coming over to set a screen and prepared to switch.
Then, whoosh. Carson blew right past Kernich-Drew, laid the ball in with 11.3 seconds left, and WSU misfired three times after calling a timeout.