LAS VEGAS – With tears in his eyes and a crack in his voice, Kimani Lawrence reflected on what it meant to be an Arizona State basketball player.
“I’m going to miss it,” he said. “Competing with Coach Hurley and my teammates over the last few years were some of the greatest years of my life, and ups and downs I’ve been through.”
After Lawrence’s poster dunk with 3:01 left on the clock put the Sun Devils up by 14, ASU couldn’t finish the job. Stanford used a 16-1 run in the final 2:45 to stun the Sun Devils 71-70 in the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
They end the season 14-17.
“We controlled the game most of the game and played a winning game and just didn’t finish it,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “And now you gotta pay the price for it, and that’s kinda what March is.”
Despite how well ASU played for most of the game, Stanford never quit. The Cardinal got a career high 26 points from forward Spencer Jones and a game-winning shot from forward James Keefe, something he hasn’t done in quite some time.
“I hit one in JV in high school. But not in college and not on varsity basketball. So definitely been a while,” Keefe said.
Hurley had nothing but positive things to say about his squad despite a disappointing ending to a season that was just beginning to show a lot of potential. The Sun Devils had won seven of their previous eight games before their early exit in the Pac-12 tournament.
But with losing to UC Riverside on a miraculous half-court buzzer beater in its second game of the season, ASU both started and ended the season with the same bitter taste in their mouth.
It has been a season of what could have been for ASU, a team that never really got its footing thanks to a breakage in play due to COVID-19. When the Sun Devils had the time to jell later in the season, they were more than formidable, coming into the tournament as the hottest team in the conference.
“The guys fought, and it was very impressive that the team showed that kind of character to continue to fight,” Hurley said. “And I think it took this type of game for us to lose. So it makes you wonder what might have been if we could have got this done today.”
But that’s the game of basketball. Things can go wrong much quicker than they can go right, and 37 minutes of impeccable play can transform into nothing but sheer pain in a fraction of the time.
ASU guard Jay Heath had a blank expression on his face, almost as if he hadn’t fully processed what just took place.
“We lost focus after Kimani got that big dunk, and we just never bounced back from that,” he said. “Missing free throws, turning it over, wasn’t rebounding, and ended up losing the game.”
The worst part of losing a game the way Sun Devils did is the feeling that if they did just one thing differently, the outcome would have been reversed. Lawrence wished he could have done more as the senior leader of the team.
“We just started playing the score, which has been unusual for us the last couple games,” Lawrence said “Just a learning lesson for the guys coming back next year. As a senior leader, gotta lead a little better. Help us stay together on court. I didn’t do that today, so that’s what happens.”
Hurley clearly has a lot of love for his players this year. He wishes they had a better chance to find success because he believes this could have been a special group had things gone a bit differently, despite what their record looks like.
“I wanted to keep coaching these guys because of the heart that they’ve shown and the commitment to get better and all the winning traits that they’ve shown over the last four, five weeks,” he said. “So it’s hard. It’s just tough.
It’s very painful right now.”