Coaches are fond of saying that free throws win games, and the Ducks’ 68-65 win over Arizona State is a shining example.
The game lacked the excitement that came with Oregon’s upset win over Arizona earlier in the week but it was actually a closer game, at least by the score. Neither team led by more than five points in the last 30 minutes of the game, and Arizona State’s eight-point lead early in the first was the widest margin of the game.
“We just never seemed to get a good rhythm going,” head coach Dana Altman said. “But we found a way to win.”
Oregon took a four-point lead into the half and held a slim lead for most of the second half, with the Sun Devils never more than a few possessions away from turning the game around. ASU even took a slim lead with 7:08 left in the game but Oregon quickly responded.
The Ducks couldn’t pull away though, and Arizona State took a one-point lead again with 2:09 remaining before a Tony Woods dunk gave the Ducks the lead which they wouldn’t relinquish.
With the Ducks shooting just 40 percent from the field — seven percent worse than Arizona State — it was clear the Ducks weren’t going to pull away without hitting their free throws. As Arizona State was forced to start fouling, the Ducks responded by hitting free throw after free throw. First, it was a pair of foul shots from Arsalan Kazemi. Then it was Tony Woods, then two makes from Carlos Emory.
But each time the Ducks made clutch free throws, Arizona State responded at the offensive end. After Kazemi’s foul shots put the Ducks up by three, Jahii Carson knocked down two of his 20 points to pull his team within one. After Carlos Emory’s free throws put the Ducks up by five in the final 10 seconds, Carson hit another three to make things a game again, but E.J. Singler was able to hit one of two to ice the game for the Ducks.
It was the only free throw Oregon missed in a game where they needed to be nearly perfect from the stripe.
“I’m very pleased that we found a way to win,” Altman said, “on a night we weren’t very sharp.”
With the win, the Ducks remain tied for the Pac-12 lead, a position that few pundits would have predicted at the start of the year. Not that it’s a surprise to the Ducks.
“We have a lot of talent,” senior Tony Woods said. “I think we all feel like we deserve to be here.”