To say Arizona State forward Jonathan Gilling is a 3-point specialist would be an understatement. Gilling, a junior forward, takes more than 80 percent of his shots from 3-point land, a percentage that ranks among the highest in the country. So when the junior started dropping floaters and knocking down midrange shots off curls midway through the second half, it’s somewhat understandable that the Cal men’s basketball team’s defense essentially ceased to exist from then on.
Up six with less than 16 minutes left in the contest, Gilling sandwiched two 2-pointers around a Jahii Carson layup, turning a close game into a double-digit lead in less than 90 seconds. Seemingly flustered by Gilling’s rare forays inside the arc, the Bears (18-11, 9-7 Pac-12) never really recovered, dropping their second straight game, 78-60, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., Saturday afternoon.
“They did a really good job of moving the ball,” said head coach Mike Montgomery. “If they’re open, they find the open man. The ball’s not stopped. It’s discouraging because we’re not playing very well right now.”
Gilling, who finished with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, was not the Sun Devils’ leading scorer. That honor went to Jermaine Marshall, whose 22 points were a game high. The guard was about the only Arizona State player to show up on offense in the early going, scoring 10 of the Sun Devils’ first 15 points while star point guard Carson struggled under the careful watch of Justin Cobbs. Despite shooting under 30 percent for most of the first half, Marshall and Co. were able to keep the deficit under control; the most they trailed by in the game was six points.
(Marshall’s) obviously a really good shooter,” Montgomery said. “I don’t know if we have anyone who can catch it like him and just jump and shoot it.”
Cobbs tried his best to wrest control of the contest in the first half, hitting his first four shots, including a 3-pointer with 6:40 left in the first half that gave Cal a four-point lead. It’d be the Bears’ largest lead for the remainder of the game.
Arizona State’s defense tightened up for the final seven minutes of the frame, allowing Cal to score just two points before the halftime buzzer. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils (21-8, 10-6) started to find a little rhythm on offense outside of Marshall, spreading the ball around and setting up good looks for role players like Gilling, whose catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the left wing gave Arizona State a 29-24 halftime edge.
The Sun Devils’ scoring barrage picked up steam heading into the second half. After Jordan Bachyzinski clanked a jumper off the rim on their first possession, Arizona State proceeded to make its next eight shots. When Shaquielle McKissic finally missed a layup with 12:58 left in the first half, the Sun Devils held a commanding 47-35 lead.
McKissic quickly atoned for that mistake. On the next possession, Cal forward David Kravish helped double-team an Arizona State guard on the perimeter, leaving McKissic wide-open in the corner. The guard found McKissic, who caught the ball and sprinted baseline towards the rack. Richard Solomon closed quick, but it was too late; McKissic rose up, flew under the hoop and slammed it home with authority on the other side. It was an exclamation point at the end of a game that felt like a life sentence for Cal.