Despite an Electric Crowd, No. 11 Arizona State falls to Oregon
By Andrew Bell // Men’s Basketball Beat Writer for Blaze Sports
TEMPE, Ariz — After losing two of its first three games in Pac-12 play, the ASU men’s basketball team had a chance to make amends for its slow start in conference play in front of a raucous crowd at Wells Fargo Arena as ASU hosted an unranked and struggling Oregon Ducks team.
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, Oregon had its own plan as they pulled off a 76-72 upset over the No. 11 team in the nation.
ASU was outscored 38-16 on points in the paint and they were out-rebounded 38-31 in a game where the Ducks were able to outwork the Sun Devils.
“We are certainly good in spurts. That’s been a strength of ours obviously, but we are not in a great rhythm and we haven’t been and we are kind of just grinding it out trying to find it,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “You go through stretches where you are not quite in sync like you hope, but the offensive rebounds were a major issue for us.”
While Oregon put forth a gritty performance to grab a victory, the turning point in the game came toward the end of the first half.
After jumping out to a 13-point lead that had the looks of a big ASU lead, Oregon managed to weather the storm and respond with a 14-2 run to end the first half. Just before the end of 20 minutes, senior guard Elijah Brown drilled a three to tie the game at 41 heading into the locker room.
“I thought we had opportunities in the first half two different times to take hold of the game and we allowed them to get back, especially at the end of the first half,” Hurley said. “…It’s not how we have kind of been finishing halfs this year.”
In addition to a blown lead, ASU shot themselves in the foot with missed opportunities at the free throw line. The Sun Devils were 22-31 from the charity stripe, including five missed free throws from their senior backcourt.
At one point in the second half, ASU turned the ball over three times on three straight possessions, and it allowed Oregon to get just enough breathing room to pull away.
Senior guard Tra Holder was 4 of 13 from the field on the same day that he was named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top-25. ASU turned the ball over 11 times and they were hindered by a swarming Oregon defense that controlled the tempo of the game.
“Teams are slowing the game down and not letting us play at our speed anymore,” ASU senior guard Kodi Justice said. “We got to figure out ways to get stops.”
Justice was one of the bright spots for a stagnant ASU offense. He finished with 21 points while shooting 6 of 12 from the field.
Oregon used their physicality to disrupt ASU’s potent offense that has been relatively contained in conference play. The Ducks mixed up a variety of zone looks, and they even delved into some half court and full court pressure to sustain the Sun Devils.
“We have to make each other better. I don’t know if we are really completely making each other better on offense right now,” Hurley said. “We had some good examples of good ball movement in the first half, and not so much in the second half.”
Another notable stat line was ASU’s alarming numbers off of the bench. Oregon outscored the Devils 22-8 on bench points and freshman guard Remy Martin did not play for a majority of the second half.
Hurley reiterated how a point of emphasis prior to the game was to “own the paint”, but ASU had difficulty with fulfilling that requirement.
The front court combination of redshirt freshman forward Romello White and junior forward De’Quon Lake combined for just 12 points and nine rebounds, and the duo has had difficulties since the beginning of Pac-12 play.
“We are searching for the balance that we need,” Hurley said. “We got to get some production, whether it’s the guards to the rim and finishing or throwing it inside to Melo (Romello) and De’Quon…we are just not getting enough production in the lane right now.”
To add insult to injury, ASU fell with NBA star and Sun Devil alum James Harden in attendance. The loss was ASU’s first loss on its home court, and despite an undefeated non-conference slate, the Sun Devils are now looking at a 1-3 record in Pac-12 play.
Although the loss is not the end of the world, ASU certainly has some soul searching to do in order to try and find their old identity. The loss at home on Thursday night was a reminder that nothing is granted in conference play, and ASU is learning the hard way through its first four games against Pac-12 opponents.
With the hopes of avoiding a 1-4 descent into the bowels of the Pac-12, ASU will have a gut-check game on Saturday afternoon against an Oregon State team that defeated Oregon just last week.
“We got to drag ourselves out of this because we are 1-3. The numbers are what they are in the conference, so we got our work cut out for us,” Hurley said. “We got to find ourselves again.”
Tipoff between ASU and Oregon State is set for Saturday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m MST at Wells Fargo Arena. The game can be heard on Blaze Sports Mixlr with Max Madden and Lyle Goldstein on the call.
Andrew Bell is one of Blaze Radio’s beat writers for ASU Men’s Basketball. You can reach out to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewBell7 .