LOS ANGELES - With the game on the line, Jahii Carson flashed down the court, the final seconds ticking, and pulled up from about 25 feet. The shot felt good.
"Didn't have much time and I had to make a quick decision," the Arizona State freshman point guard said. "Just a little bit too hard."
In some ways that has been the story of ASU's season. A little too much of this, a little too much of that. Just in Pac-12 play alone, the Sun Devils have lost six games by five or fewer points. Saturday's 57-56 loss at USC was just the latest, a setback for a team that could not afford one.
Losing for the fifth time in seven games, ASU dropped to 20-10 and 9-8 in the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils visit the UA on Saturday, then head to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament. Sometime between now and then, they need to find their confidence. The recent misfortune - not to mention life on the NCAA tournament bubble - has worn them down.
"It does a toll on you emotionally, just because you work so hard and you grind out so much (for) 40 minutes and then (for it) to come down and potentially hit a game-winning shot, it's tough losing like that," senior Carrick Felix said.
Saturday's game, played in front of 4,034 fans, featured a slow start, a second-half rally and a questionable call in the final minutes.
Whatever the reason, ASU came out flat, falling into a 28-9 hole.
Still, ASU chipped away. The Sun Devils were within 11 at halftime and pulled within 51-45 with 5:40 to go. Senior guard Chris Colvin provided a spark. His three-point play brought ASU to within five. After both teams traded baskets, Colvin scored again to bring ASU to within 55-52 with 53 seconds left.
Then came the questionable call, one that didn't decide the game but certainly didn't help the Sun Devils.
After a timeout, USC's J.T. Terrell air-balled a three-poin attempt in the final seconds of the shot clock. USC's Eric Wise rebounded and a whistle blew. Unsure to call a shot-clock violation or a foul, the officials reviewed the play and ruled ASU's Jordan Bachynski fouled Wise in the act of shooting, giving him two shots.
Wise hit both foul shots, putting USC up five, but ASU didn't quit. Carson scored in five seconds, cutting the margin to 3. After a USC turnover, the freshman scored again, bringing ASU to within 57-56. The Sun Devils fouled Wise with four seconds left. He missed the first free throw of a 1-and-1, giving Carson four seconds to win the game.
"Everyone knew (from the beginning) that the schedule was going to play out very difficult down at the end," Sendek said. "We're two possessions away from having two wins this weekend."