Ty Abbott gave some of the credit to the pain he felt in his knee.
Arizona State's returning all-conference senior didn't shoot the ball particularly well in his team's first two games of the season, but after knocking knees in the second half, a lower jumping Abbott hit a game winning 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds remaining to beat Alabama-Birmingham 69-66 in the team's home opener.
"It probably helped me out on the jump shot," Abbott said of the knee. "I probably was jumping too high and kind of went with a set shot and it calmed me down and got me where I needed to be."
The play in question was draw up for sophomore Trent Lockett, who spectacularly led the Sun Devils (1-1) with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but when the Blazers collapsed on his dribble drive, Lockett found Abbott wide open.
"Coach designed a play for me to get the ball at the elbow and kind of get something going toward the basket, maybe get fouled and go to the line," Lockett said. "My guy did a good job of cutting me off. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ty's guy help. He's a great shooter, I'm going to give him the ball in that situation and he made a huge play for us."
Abbott, who finished with 15 points, may have hit the shot that had a crowd of 8,642 at Wells Fargo Arena immediately buzzing afterwards, but it was Lockett's performance they'll likely be talking about throughout the rest of weekend and beyond.
Lockett made 9 of 14 shots from the field was an unstoppable force getting to the basket off the dribble for the second straight game. He's noticeably improved his ability to handle the ball since last season, and appears to have started the season playing with a high degree of confidence.
"He kept us in the game," Abbott said, giving the rest of the credit to his teammate. "It was his play. He had a lot of energy plays. The dunks and things like that kept the crowd in it. He did a great job. He was the reason I was able to hit that shot and he's the reason we have this win."
The Sun Devils may have won the game on a 3-point shot, but it was their ineffectiveness from long range that kept it close in the first place. They went 1 of 10 from the distance in the first half and finished 3 of 17 in the game with Abbott's 2-of-5 performance the team's best.
Strong support came off the bench from freshman Kyle Cain, who provided a spark, as well as 14 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes with sophomore Ruslan Pateev saddled with foul trouble for the second straight game. Pateev had two points and two rebounds in nine minutes of action.
"I couldn't be more pleased with Kyle," Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek said. "He is a true warrior, plays with great heart and passion. And what you see in the game is what he gives every single day in practice. He knows no other way other than to give his best. His improvement over the last four weeks has been nothing short of staggering."
UAB (2-1) scrapped and clawed throughout. Despite four shot clock violations due to the Sun Devils' occasionally pesky defense, the Blazers pulled down more rebounds, had a slew of second-chance points, and scored extensively in the paint.
Sophomore forward Cameron Moore had 22 points on 10 of 16 shooting and pulled down 13 rebounds to lead the Blazers, while nifty point guard Aaron Johnson had 12 assists and set up teammates for regularly open looks with dribble penetration of ASU's zone defense.
The teams took a 28-28 tie into halftime and played closely until a Quincy Taylor 3-pointer gave UAB its largest lead of the game at 50-42 with 12:33 remaining.
ASU answered with an 8-0 run over 3-plus minute span to tie the score at 50-50 with 9:17 remaining, doing so with Abbott grimacing in pain on the sidelines.
"When he first got hurt I had no idea what the injury was," Sendek said. "Anytime you hear 'knee' and you look at someone's face anguishing in pain you don't think real good thoughts."
Abbott worked some flexibility back into the knee in the tunnel near the court, eventually convincing his coaches he was good enough to re-enter at the 7:27 mark. He promptly hit a 3-pointer to again tie the score at 55-55.
With Abbott struggling to move laterally on the defensive end, coaches debated what to do on the bench, but the senior essentially made the decision for them. He was staying in.
"He wouldn't let us take him out, basically," Sendek said. "He kept telling us he was OK, and I'm sure glad I made that decision."
The Sun Devils eventually stretched their lead to 65-59 on a free throw by freshman Carrick Felix at the 1:47 mark, but a bad defensive possession coupled with a turnover quickly cut the lead to 65-64 with 56 seconds remaining.
After an exchange of free throws that saw ASU make one and UAB make two, a tie score of 66-66 led to a timeout with the Sun Devils in possession and 28 seconds left.