TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State completed a worst-to-first journey in 37 days, and it does not plan to stop now.
“I think we are getting better as a team and we have not peaked yet,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said after the Sun Devils survived a late Oregon State rally for a 74-73 victory to move into first place in the Pac-12 on Saturday.
“That’s a good feeling to have this time of year.”
Guards Remy Martin and Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 17 points apiece to lead five players in double figures and Arizona State extended its winning streak to seven games, its longest winning streak in conference play since the 1980-81 team won 11 in a row en route to the NCAA tournament.
The Sun Devils (19-8, 10-4 Pac-12) were 1-3 and tied for last place in the conference after losing to No. 18 Colorado on Jan. 16.
They have won nine of 10 since, losing only to Washington State at the buzzer.
Among their conquests are No. 24 Arizona and No. 14 Oregon.
“Where we were at one point, and we’ve kind of transformed ourselves and really have found an identity,” Hurley said. “Having a lot of guys playing well at the right time of the year.
“You have a team you have to rip their heart out to beat them, and that’s what we’re bringing to the court every game. It was just a commitment. Everyone made it. We feel we could do more and we started playing up to our level.”
Romello White had 15 points, Kimani Lawrence had 14 and Rob Edwards had 10 for the Sun Devils.
Tres Tinkle had 25 points and Ethan Thompson had 20 and a season-high four 3-pointers for the Beavers, who have lost three in a row and eight of 11.
There were 11 lead changes and five ties in the first 11 minutes of the second half before Edwards made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt for a 64-61 lead, and the Beavers did not lead again.
The Beavers scored the final five points after Verge’s layup gave Arizona State a 74-68 lead with 2:31 left. Kylor Kelly made a layup before Jarod Lucas’ 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining closed the deficit to 74-73.
Oregon State had the last possession, and Lucas’ 3-pointer from the right corner with two seconds remaining bounced off. White switched onto Tinkle as he drove down the left side of the lane, forcing Tinkle to pass to Lucas.
“I thought we battled hard enough to win that game,” Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said.
”We’re way past moral victories, but I’m proud of guys’ grittiness and toughness against the hottest team in the league. Coach Hurley called a hell of a game.”
Arizona State’s steak started when Hurley juggled the lineup to bring Verge off the bench. Verge is averaging 17.7 points and 27.6 minutes a game in the last 10.
“It just says we’re a connected unit,” White said. “We playing together as a team. Everyone is producing. Everybody is doing what they have to do. Everybody is picking in. We still have a lot more growing to do. I feel like we haven’t peaked yet, either.”
Oregon State: The Beavers appear to be a long shot to reach the NCAA tournament, but their resume includes victories over all three of the Pac-12’s ranked teams — Colorado, Arizona and Oregon.
Arizona State: With its seven long winning streak, Arizona State has placed itself squarely in the NCAA tournament field according to most projections. The Sun Devils are listed as a No. 8 seed by NCAA.com, a No. 9 seed by CBS Sports and No. 10 seed by ESPN.
The top five teams in the Pac-12 standings are separated by one game entering the final week of the regular season after UCLA (10-5) won at No. 18 Colorado to knock the Buffaloes (10-5) out of first place and No. 14 Oregon (10-5) won at No. 24 Arizona (9-5) to salvage a split of the Arizona trip.
“The league is a bear this year,” Hurley said. “There are a lot of good teams. The one we played tonight was a good one.”
The Arizona schools will play at the Los Angeles schools this weekend, Colorado plays the Bay Area schools and Oregon hosts to Oregon State.