Redshirt freshman guard Jahii Carson and senior wing Carrick Felix walked into the media room disgusted Saturday.
Carson had his jersey in hand displaying a furious facial expression for an otherwise composed individual. Felix’s frustration could be heard in his diction despite his monotone voice.
They knew ASU had its chances to beat Stanford, but it couldn’t. The Sun Devils (18-6, 7-4 Pac-12) fell to the Cardinal (15-9, 6-5 Pac-12) 62-59 at Wells Fargo Arena.
After sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling nailed a desperation 3-pointer to make a three-point game, the Sun Devils had two chances to tie the game in the final 14 seconds. Senior guard Chris Colvin got ASU the possession back on a jump ball, but sophomore wing Bo Barnes missed a 3-pointer with five seconds left.
Stanford gained possession on yet another jump ball, but junior forward Dwight Powell turned the ball over hitting the midcourt video board on the inbound pass with .7 seconds left. Senior forward Andy Brown intercepted Carson’s inbound pass to Gilling to complete the wild finish.
“We definitely didn’t play ASU basketball,” Felix said. It was the first sentence to start the post game press conference.
ASU’s margin for error was slim with the way Stanford played offensively. The Cardinal started the game shooting 58.3 percent in the first half, hitting 7-of-11 on 3-pointers. Powell and junior forward Josh Huestis were 8-of-12 from the floor at halftime and both finished the game with double-doubles. Powell and 22 points and 10 rebounds while Huestis had 13 points and 12 boards.
“I thought the matchup along the front line was difficult for us,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “Truth be told, I thought we just had some challenges carrying our preparation over to execution.”
The Sun Devils were just as unsuccessful in the first five minutes of the second half at stopping Powell and Huestis, so Sendek played without a center for the last 14:23 of the game. ASU was down 49-34 at that point, and Gilling was the tallest player on the floor when he entered for senior center Ruslan Pateev.
The Cardinal couldn’t take advantage of the front court mismatches due to the ball pressure from Carson and ASU’s backcourt during the stretch. The 15-point deficit dwindled down to five with 7:15 left.
“When we play like that, I think it causes teams a little bit more trouble because the guards can’t get the ball to the bigs,” Carson said. “When the bigs are missing, I think that’ll take them out of the flow of the game, and I think that’s what we were trying to do at the end.”
The Sun Devils just couldn’t shots to fall on their end. They went nearly five minutes with a bucket, missing all five field goal attempts. They shot 34.4 percent in the game and went 10-of-31 in the second half.
“I think we kind of took a lot of quick shots,” Felix said. “Not a couple, but a lot of quick shots and just got out of our offense a little bit.”
Felix had a team-high 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting and added 10 rebounds. Carson contributed 15 points on 7-of-16 shooting. The rest of the team went 10-of-35 from the floor.
ASU wasn’t any better on 3-pointers or free throws. It shot 7-of-23 from behind the arc and 8-of-16 from the charity stripe.
“Given that situation (switching to small ball), I can think of any number of pretty good looks that we had from the field that might’ve even given us more momentum and a better chance to win the game,” Sendek said. “When you’re playing like that, you’ve got to knock down shots.”
The Sun Devils missed an opportunity to defend the home court. They will play five of their final seven games on the road to finish the season with a Pac-12 title and their NCAA Tournament hopes on the line.
They could’ve used this game to further strengthen their chances at accomplishing both tasks, but Carson and Felix’s expressions after the game said it best. The road just got a bit tougher.
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