Second-round tourney loss ends ASU’s basketball season

ASU basketball has been living on borrowed time this season.  Yesterday, the clock finally ran out.

The top-seeded Oregon Ducks ran away with a 91-73 victory over No. 9 Arizona State in yesterday’s second round of the Pac-12 Tournament, officially ending ASU’s season since the team needed to win the tourney in order to get an automatic invite to the NCAA Tournament.

For a good part of the game, ASU hung with Oregon.  The Sun Devils actually took the lead at the midway point of the first half, 15-13, but the Ducks responded with a 10-0 run and held on to an eight-point lead at the half, 35-27.

ASU kept within striking distance for a good part of the second half, keeping within a single-digit margin until the Ducks opened up a 13-point lead, their largest of the game to that point, with 13:24 to play.  Then Oregon (20-5) stretched it to 16 points at the 11:18 mark and the Sun Devils never got closer than 11 points the rest of the way.

The Devils (11-14) were out-manned and undersized in this match-up.  They were playing without their blue-chip freshmen, Josh Christopher (back injury) and Marcus Bagley (ankle), and were also missing junior forward Taeshon Cherry, who wasn’t available for personal reasons.

That trio was providing a combined 29 points a game — a major hit in the scoring column.

On top of that, sophomore forward Jalen Graham fouled out at the 6:28 mark of the second half, and, worse yet, Kimani Lawrence left the game with a leg injury with 13 minutes still to play, done for the game.  He was the team’s second-best producer in the previous game, with 13 points, but left the Oregon game with five points in just under 24 minutes on the court.

But this has been the story of ASU basketball all season long.  More than once, they were given up for dead, but managed to hold it together and keep going.  They even worked through the loss of three of the team’s top four scorers to win the first-round game against No. 8 Washington State, 64-59, as Alonzo Verge picked up the slack.  The 6’2″ senior guard from Chicago, who averages 14 points a game, poured in a season-high 26 points to carry the Devils to the second round.

Verge (photo above) led the ASU scoring again against Oregon, this time with 28 points for a new season high.  Remy Martin, the team’s leading scorer (19 ppg), was held to just six points against Washington State, but found his stroke again against Oregon, adding 16 points — all in the second half.

As it turned out, going into the Oregon game short-handed, and then losing two more players before the game would end, pretty much sums up the way this season went.

Coach Bobby Hurley had a thin bench all the way through, never having a full roster for any single game.  Fifteen games were played without two key players, and a dozen more missing three players.

ASU had two of the top scorers in the Pac-12, Martin and Verge, returning for this season.  And Hurley added a couple of top-30 recruits in Christopher and Bagley.  Christopher, at No. 10, is the highest-rated recruit the program has ever landed.  Based on that, the Devils entered this season ranked No. 17 in the preseason national rankings.

But the four played together in just seven games all season.

Between player injuries and a schedule turned upside down, with constant starts and stops due to the coronavirus, the Sun Devils did what they could to survive.

But it wasn’t enough to live up to the expectations, which included a trip to the Big Dance.

This year’s March Madness will go on without the Sun Devils.  But not for a lack of effort.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)