He’ll prove you wrong, and make you pay.
Displaying his offensive skills from every angle, Justice scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half to lead Arizona State to a 92-90 victory over Kansas State on Thursday in the Las Vegas Invitational.
“I’m a basketball player, I’m not just a shooter,” Justice said. “If people want to pigeonhole me as one thing, like I said, I’m a basketball player. I can do anything you ask me to do. If I need to guard somebody, if I need to dive on the ball, attack the basket. I was just trying to do anything in my power to help our team win.”
That he did, as he led a second-half rally to keep the Sun Devils (5-0) undefeated and launch them into the championship game, where they’ll face No. 15 Xavier (5-0) on Friday.
Clinging to a two-point lead, the Wildcats (4-1) opened the second half on a 7-0 run to extend their lead to nine, 51-42. But Arizona State quickly clawed its way back into the game, using a 12-2 run to take a 54-53 lead with 13:51 left in the contest.
From that point there were six lead changes and five ties, before Arizona State went on a 13-5 run to distance itself.
Trailing 77-69, Kansas State used a barrage of 3-pointers to get within one, 83-82, with less than four minutes to play. Justice hit a 3-pointer and 1 of 2 from the free-throw line to extend ASU’s lead back to five.
“I didn’t want to lose this game, it was a big one for us,” Justice said. “I know it’s early, and you say, ‘if you lose this it’s not that big of a deal,’ but we’re trying to build a resume for the future, to build this program up, to just be a winning program.”
But so are the Wildcats, who wouldn’t go away. They got within one after Barry Brown converted a 3-point play. And after Arizona State’s Remy Martin sank 1 of 2 free throws with 4.1 seconds left, Kansas State had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but Brown’s layup clanged off the rim.
“We just kept telling ourselves it wasn’t over, so credit to our guys,” Brown said. “It’s a new group so I wanted to see how we deal with adversity. So I’m glad to see with one minute left down (seven), we could still fight our way back.”
Romello White had 19 points and six rebounds for the Sun Devils, while Shannon Evans added 14.
“We kind of just battled,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “We showed a lot of determination with how we played and just pushing through different adversities at all different times of the game.”
The Wildcats were led by Brown, who had 27 points, while Kamau Stokes scored 23.
One glaring discrepancy in the game was Arizona State taking 44 free-throw attempts — 31 in the second half — while the Wildcats took just nine. In the process, Kansas State lost 6-foot-9 forward Makol Mawien and 6-foot-5 forward Xavier Sneed, as they both fouled out.
“Obviously the fouls became a factor, because now you don’t have your guys in there,” Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. “But we gotta get better, we gotta learn from it. There were some calls I questioned, there’s no doubt about it. But we gotta take care of the ball.”
Kansas State hit 17 of 27 (63 percent) from the field in the first half, including 50 percent (8 of 16) from 3-point range, but led just 44-42 at halftime, as the Sun Devils kept things close with their hot shooting.
Arizona State hit 13 of 25 (52 percent) from the floor, including 5 of 10 (50 percent) from long range in the first half. They also drained 11 of 13 from the free-throw line in the first 20 minutes.
Arizona State: Tra Holder was looking to bring his hot hand to Las Vegas, as he entered the game after earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after averaging 35.7 minutes, 23.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists. On Nov. 19, against UC Irvine, the 6-foot-1 senior guard dropped a career-high 35 points on 13-of-15 shooting from the floor. But after scoring 11 points in the first half, Holder was shut out over the final 20 minutes.
Kansas State: The Wildcats opened the season with seven consecutive home games (three exhibition and four regular season), and are using their trip to Las Vegas as a litmus test against quality opponents. They’re also in the midst of playing six games in a 15-day span.
Arizona State: Will play Xavier on Friday
Kansas State: Faces George Washington on Friday