It looked like someone picked the ball out of mid-air and decided it would be funny to hold it there. The thing hung for an eternity on the rim. And then it bounced and bounced again. Finally, it dropped through the netting, and the crowd at Haas Pavilion erupted in a synchronized explosion. Justin Cobbs, benched for poor play earlier in the half, had driven through a cavalcade of Arizona State defenders and laid it in to give the Bears a one-point lead with just 35 seconds remaining.
And then, in an instant, the magic was gone. After two David Kravish free throws gave the Cal men’s basketball team a three-point cushion, Jermaine Marshall nailed a wide-open three-pointer right in front of the Arizona State bench to tie it up with 17 seconds left.
“We knew what they were going to run,” said Cal coach Mike Montgomery. “We just didn’t defend it.”
On the ensuing possession, Cobbs — who finished with 21 points — took the in-bounds pass and stopped just above the perimeter, simultaneously dribbling while glancing up at the game clock. With four seconds left, he sprung into action, dribbling to the right of a Richard Solomon pick and rising for his patented pull-up jumper. Unlike his layup only minutes earlier, the jumper clanked just once off the iron and fell meekly to the floor below. Overtime.
None of the drama of the final minute carried over into the extra period. The Sun Devils (16-5, 5-3 Pac-12), and their superstar point guard Jahii Carson, just took the game over, prevailing 89-78 at Haas Pavilion on Wednesday night.
Nobody expects the smallest player on the court to make a difference in a game of giants, but Carson didn’t simply hold his own — he took over the entire game.
Cal just could not stay in front of Arizona State’s 5-foot-10 jitterbug of a point guard, who finished with 29 points and seven assists. Carson’s between-the-legs crossovers and funky jump-stops had the Bears’ guards looking like they were playing without shoes. Sometimes, Carson would catch the in-bounds pass and run all the way to the hoop for an easy layup before the Cal (14-7, 5-3) defense realized what was going on. Other times, Carson sprinted down the court and pulled up on a dime for a wide-open midrange jumper. When the whole defense eventually just started staring right at Carson, he responded by dribbling right into the teeth of the defense and finding a teammate for a three-pointer.
“Carson came down at four million miles an hour and ran into us,” Montgomery said. “It’s hard to defend a guy like that.”
If Carson played Batman, Marshall made a worthy Robin. Marshall poured in 22 points, including three three-pointers that were all assisted by Carson. His final three-pointer — the last basket of regulation — proved to be the important one, propelling the Sun Devils into an extra frame of basketball.
Arizona State pulled away quickly in the overtime period. After Kravish responded to Carson’s deep three-pointer with a bucket of his own, the Sun Devils embarked on an 11-0 run to push their lead to 12. By that point, the raucous Cal faithful, so deafeningly loud mere moments before, had largely exited the building, and the only noise left was a timid “A-S-U” chant ringing out in a distant corner.