LAS VEGAS — Jahii Carson has always loved the spotlight, embracing the hype that has followed him since his high school days.
Faced with the brightest lights of his young career, the fabulous freshman rose above everyone else.
Carson scored five of his 34 points in overtime in his first college postseason game, helping Arizona State hold off Stanford 89-88 in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday. Carson’s 34 points were the most by a freshman in tournament history.
“I just try to come up big on big stages,” Carson said. “I know my teammates look a lot for me to create for them and create for myself, and I try to go out there and make big plays.”
Meeting for the second time this season, the Cardinal and Sun Devils traded 3-pointers, dunks and small runs in an entertaining opener to the four-day tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Arizona State (21-11), the tournament’s ninth seed, went up six with about 2 minutes left in regulation, but Stanford (18-14) rallied, tying it at 79 on Aaron Bright’s four-point play with 38 seconds left.
Carson, who missed a 3-pointer at the end of regulation, put Arizona State up three with a layup in overtime, and Evan Gordon hit 5 of 6 free throws to send the Sun Devils to the quarterfinals Thursday against No. 21 UCLA.
Carrick Felix had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Gordon made 9 of 11 free throws to finish with 16 points, and Jonathan Gilling added 14 for the Sun Devils.
Carson hit 14 of 22 shots, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range, and had four assists while just missing the school freshman record of 35 points.
“We tried to squeeze the court on Jahii Carson to shrink the floor so he doesn’t see as much space, and he was still able to squeeze through gaps and made plays,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “He was that good.”
Bright hit six 3-pointers and had 27 points, Dwight Powell had 23 points, and Josh Huestis added 17 for the eighth-seeded Cardinal.
Stanford made 15 3-pointers, but attempted just one free throw — to Arizona State’s 17 — and will have to wait to see if its postseason will continue or if the season ended in Vegas.
“That’s everybody’s goal before the season starts to make the tourney,” Bright said. “Whatever tournament that we get into and whatever opportunity that we have, we’re going to try to fulfill it.”
Both teams likely needed to win this tournament to get into the NCAA tournament.
Arizona State got the season off to a great start, going 11-2 in nonconference and winning six of its first eight Pac-12 games to get in the hunt for the regular-season title.
The Sun Devils faded down the stretch, though, losing seven of nine, including the final four of the regular season to finish 9-9 and tied for fifth in the conference.
Stanford had an up-and-down season from the start, losing some tough games to ranked opponents early and opening the Pac-12 with four losses in six games. The Cardinal did finish the regular season strong, knocking off Utah and California to finish 9-9.
Stanford won the lone meeting against the Sun Devils 62-59 in Tempe behind Powell’s 22 points and a 10-for-18 night from the 3-point arc.
The good shooting continued early; Stanford made seven of its first eight shots and Powell had seven quick points.
Arizona State fell into a 16-point hole in the first meeting before rallying with a small lineup. The Sun Devils went small earlier against Stanford and matched the Cardinal behind Felix and Carson.
Carson had 13 points by halftime and Felix had 10 points and rebounds for Arizona State, which led 35-33 after making 5 of 8 from 3-point range.
Arizona State tried to pull away midway through the second half, going up eight after Gordon hit a jumper and a 3-pointer.
The Cardinal fought back quickly behind Powell, who had a vicious one-handed rebound slam and basket inside to make it 56-54.
The Sun Devils made a couple more little runs, and Stanford kept answering to get the game to overtime.
Arizona State pulled it out there, thanks to Carson, getting the first of what it hopes is four straight wins.
“It’s extremely rare, not only for a freshman, but for anybody,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said of Carson. “There is a different feel when you come to a conference tournament.”