SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mickey Mitchell had never hit two go-ahead free throws to win a game in his life before Sunday night. With two freebies dropping through the twine, the Arizona State sophomore averted what would have been a disastrous start to the Pac-12 season for the fourth-ranked team in the nation.
Mitchell hit two free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining after being fouled on a drive to give Arizona State a 79-77 lead. Justin Bibbins missed what could have been the game-winning 3-pointer with 6 seconds left.
“I was praying for (the call),” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t too confident by the way the night went, but I was glad I got it.
“Had to make two to put us up. That’s what I was going to do. That’s the last thing we do every day in practice, free throws.”
Kodi Justice scored 20 points and carried the offensive load most of the night for Arizona State (13-2, 1-2 Pac-12), but Evans found a groove late, scoring 10 straight points down the stretch. Tra Holder, the conference’s leading scorer, added 11 points.
“To start 0-3 in the Pac would be tough for us,” Evans said. “We just wanted to get back on a winning streak.
“It’s been tough for me the last five games, honestly. I’ve been in the gym every night getting up shots, doing everything I could do, but in the game it wasn’t falling for me. … I missed a few early and Coach (Bobby) Hurley was like, ‘Keep shooting.’ I was like, ‘All right. I got you.’ That’s what I do.”
Bibbins had 22 points and six assists to lead the Utes (10-5, 2-2), who also lost to No. 14 Arizona on this homestand. Sedrick Barefield added 21.
The teams went back and forth throughout a second half that had no flow as Arizona State committed 31 fouls and Utah shot 36 free throws. Three Arizona State players fouled out as Hurley fumed on the sideline.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Hurley said. “Just a lot of tough games, close games, a lot of road games and tough neutrals. We’ve been challenged. We’re ready for these types of games.
“Our backs were against the wall a little bit here having dropped the first two. So we knew this was a very meaningful game for us.”
Utah erased an 11-point deficit to go into halftime with a 36-35 lead, sparked by Bibbins’ strong play. Back-to-back steals and baskets from Justice gave ASU a 19-8 lead, but the Utes responded with a 16-4 run.
“Basketball’s a game of mistakes,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “At the end of the day it comes down to probably taking a little bit better care of the ball and not getting outrebounded by a team that’s significantly smaller than us.”
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are likely to take a significant fall in the polls after losing to Arizona and Colorado and struggling against Utah.
Utah: Once again, the Utes hung in against a ranked opponent but couldn’t finish it off. Utah isn’t athletically blessed, so they have to grind out games defensively and shoot well from the perimeter.
Arizona won its first game against Utah in Salt Lake City since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011. The Sun Devils were 0-5 at Utah and 3-7 overall against the Utes in that span.
Utah freshman Donnie Tillman did not dress. He had missed four games with a foot injury before returning against Arizona three days earlier.
“It looked like it was already in and then it just came out. It’s just the way it goes,” Bibbins said of the final shot.
Arizona State: Hosts Oregon on Thursday night.
Utah: Travels to face UCLA on Thursday night.
Stats: ASU 80, Utah 77
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