MILWAUKEE — It was an omen. The ASU men’s basketball team knew its rebounding woes would be its demise.
The Sun Devils (21-12, 10-8 Pac-12) knew how proficient Texas is as an offensive rebounding team. Since the beginning of the regular season, ASU had already accepted that rebounding was its Achilles heel, but it tried to battle through it anyway.
In the second round of the NCAA tournament on Thursday night, No. 10-seed ASU faced a second-half deficit down 14 points to the No. 7-seed Longhorns (24-10, 11-7 Big 12) with 12:11 left. The Sun Devils raged back into the game and tied the game with 32 seconds thanks to junior forward Jonathan Gilling’s two free throws.
All they needed to do was get a defensive stop to force the game into overtime.
Then, ASU’s Achilles heel hampered the Sun Devils when it mattered most.
As Texas junior forward Jonathan Holmes’ 3-pointer plunged directly down to the court, Longhorns sophomore center Cameron Ridley secured the live ball with two seconds left and rushed it back up.
The ball went off the glass and danced into the basket, giving Texas a buzzer-beating win 87-85.
The entire ASU bench dropped to the court and laid in disbelief. It was an ending that sent the Sun Devils home stunned. The clock struck 12 on ASU in its short appearance in the Big Dance.
“It was a tough one,” ASU senior center Jordan Bachynski said. “It’s a tough way to end the game. It’s a tough way to end my career.”
ASU tried everything it could do to snap a three-game losing streak and keep playing in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike the last three games, the Sun Devils had a solid start to the game and persevered when Texas hit its first six shots of the game.
The Longhorns went on a 9-0 run to go up 30-21 before the Sun Devils countered with a 7-0 run.
As ASU went into halftime down 41-36, Texas came out with a 7-2 run to build its biggest lead of the game, but the Sun Devils roared back with the help of a 9-0 run.
“We decided the game wasn’t over, there’s a lot of time left on the clocks and that we have more energy and effort to give both offensively and defensively,” ASU redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson said. “We gave a lot of energy on the defensive end, which fueled our offensive game and fueled our energy.
Still, it only took a last-second put-back to ruin everything.
“Right now, I can tell you it’s a very emotional, heartbroken locker room,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said.
It wasn’t that ASU struggled to score in its recent losses. The Sun Devils were thrown into a hot-shooting competition with the Longhorns. ASU shot 48 percent from the field and 8-of-15 from the 3-point line, while Texas shot 53 percent and made five of 12 shots from the perimeter.
“You got to credit both teams with shooting the basketball very well tonight,” Sendek said.
The entire game was a battle of the centers between Bachynski and Ridley, as the two tried to outdo each other in the post. Bachynski had 25 points and seven rebounds, while Ridley had 17 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks.
“He’s tough,” Bachynski said of Ridley. “He’s a big body and he posts well and he finishes around the hoop. He’s a great post player.”
Even though rebounding ending up costing ASU, the Sun Devils actually outrebounded Texas 32-30. ASU only allowed Texas, the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country with an average of 15.0 per game, one offensive rebound in the first half, but the Longhorns grabbed nine in the last 20 minutes.
“All things considered, it was actually one of our better defensive rebounding efforts,” Sendek said.
The loss officially marks the end of the Sun Devils’ campaign, which featured their first trip to the NCAA tournament in five years.
“I think our guys had a good season,” Sendek said. “Obviously, they’re going to realize that once the moment subsides.”
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