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There doesn't seem to be a logical explanation for why Jalen Graham has played his best basketball when he has.
The 6-foot-9 product of Mountain Pointe High School practiced just a handful of times in the last three weeks and only once in two weeks leading up to ASU's showdown on Saturday against Colorado due to a non-COVID sickness.
He responded with his best outing of the season, tallying 16 points and five rebounds against the Buffaloes.
Graham continued his stellar play, this time hitting a right-handed hook shot from 10 feet out with four seconds left to boost the Sun Devils to a 64-62 win over visiting Utah in Pac-12 matinee play Monday at Desert Financial Arena.
Graham ended up with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal, despite playing down the stretch with four fouls.
Getting Graham back to the form he showed late last season would go a long way toward helping the Sun Devils (6-9, 2-3) generate some momentum with the balance of conference play to come.
The player had a video call with head coach Bobby Hurley on Wednesday to clear the air with each reaffirming their trust in the other. That call had to come over video with Hurley still quarantining after his bout with COVID.
"We talked about how he still believed in me, trusted me, stuff like that," said Graham, who played his best last season after returning from mononucleosis. "I told him I'm going to play harder once I get healthy. We believe in each other. We came to an agreement, an understanding. I appreciate him and he appreciates me."
Hurley also acknowledged that talk seemed to have paid off.
"That kid means a lot to me. He and I built a good relationship," Hurley said. "We sat down and talked just about the whole season. It hasn't been easy for him and we both came into this season with high hopes and we haven't lived up to what we had hoped for and it was more of a let's try and take advantage of every moment we have the rest of the way this year. I could tell in his body language and the way he communicated leading into the Colorado game and I wasn't even sure he was going to be able to play. We made that commitment to each other and he's more than honored it thus far."
It has been a season in which nothing has come easy so it wasn't surprising it was yet another game that came down to execution in the end. This time the Sun Devils delivered.
They trailed by two at the half, 28-26, but bounced back in the second, thanks to a 17-for-32 shooting effort from the field in the last 20 minutes which allowed them to lead by as many as six points, for the last time at 41-35.
There were six lead changes after that, with ASU going up 62-60 on a driving layup by Graham with a minute left.
The Sun Devils played solid defense on Utah's next possession, only to see the Utes David Jenkins bank in a jumper as the shot clock expired to tie the game for the last time, this time at 62, and set the stage for the game-winner which followed a time out
"We saw that in ball screens they were aggressively staying with the guard once we set it.," Hurley said. "So we had a little pocket pass to JG at the elbows. Maybe would have liked there to have been a little less time on the clock as he made the shot. And we wanted DJ (Horne) in the right corner just because I didn't think they'd rotate off him and so it worked out well."
It wasn't over yet though. The Utes (8-10, 1-7), who had not won a road game this season, had one last shot, albeit with little time. Jenkins had the ball at the top for the key but was well defended by Heath and the shot was partially blocked.
ASU shot 41.5% (27-for-65) for the game, led by the 18 points of Kimani Lawrence and the 13 of Horne. The Sun Devils made just three of 12 tries from the line but were aided by a 21-5 advantage in points off turnovers and a 36-22 edge on points in the paint.
Utah shot 35.1 (20-for-57) with Jenkins tallying a team-high 14. The Utes were playing without leading scorer Brandon Carlson, a 7-footer who is still sidelined after having an appendectomy.
Hurley went with a new starting quintet that consisted of three big men — Lawrence, Alonzo Gaffney and true freshman Enoch Boakye along with guards Jay Heath and Horne. That left Marreon Jackson to come off the bench for the first time.
"I wanted to start the game a little bigger initially, wanted to focus some on scoring in the paint," Hurley said.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Jalen Graham game winner with 4 seconds left boosts Arizona State past Utah