ASU men’s basketball’s rollercoaster 2013-14 season comes to an end

ASU men’s basketball coach Herb Sendek often connects basketball with metaphors. One of the analogies he uses the most is that basketball is a “game of runs.”

That also could appropriately describe ASU’s entire 2013-14 men’s basketball season, in which the Sun Devils finished 21-12 (10-8 Pac-12), ended third-place in the Pac-12 and had their first NCAA tournament appearance in five years.

ASU experienced it all over the last five months — left turns, right turns, high points, low points, confidence, uncertainty, joy and heartbreak.

 

 

The Sun Devils won their first six games of the season. They went 1-2 in the John R. Wooden Classic before winning their final four games in non-conference play. They started 2-3 in Pac-12 play before winning six of their next seven conference games. ASU lost its next two, then won its next two.

The ride arrived at its exit when the Sun Devils ended the season losing their final four games — which included a blowout loss to Stanford in their first game of the Pac-12 Tournament and a buzzer-beating loss to Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

It’s not the kind of finish the team envisioned, but Sendek was still pleased with the overall season.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Sendek said following the NCAA tournament loss March 20. “I think our guys had a really good season.”

The Sun Devils had crucial contributions from two new seniors — guard Jermaine Marshall and wing Shaquielle McKissic. Once an opposer of the NCAA’s loose transfer rules, Sendek recruited Marshall from Penn State and McKissic from Edmonds (Wash.) Community College, and both were immediately eligible to play for their final seasons.

Both newcomers instantly became hits.

Marshall averaged 15.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. The All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention selection had 11 games of 20-plus points and hit crucial shots at California on Jan. 29 and against UA on Feb. 14.

Marshall said throughout the season that he believed he made the right choice of transferring to ASU.

“It was a great ride,” Marshall said. “I really enjoyed myself. I really enjoyed these guys and coaches. I loved everything about Arizona State, so I had a great time my senior year.”

McKissic started at small forward for the first couple of games of the season but showed inconsistency, costing him the starting job to freshman Egor Koulechov. A jump in his scoring and field goal percentages reinserted McKissic into the lineup for the rest of the season, and he ended up becoming one of the team’s most consistent players all year.

ASU is currently petitioning the NCAA to grant McKissic one more year of eligibility due to hardships in his previous seasons.

The 2013-14 season was also a bright spot for senior center Jordan Bachynski and redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson in their final seasons.

Bachynski broke the Pac-12 career and season marks in blocks, recording 133 this season and finishing his career with 314. Bachynski was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and was named onto the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team.

Carson said several times throughout the season he would forgo his final two years of eligibility and declare for the NBA Draft this summer. While many have questioned whether Carson is ready for the professional ranks, he still finished with All-Pac-12 First Team honors and nearly the same averages from his stellar freshman season, putting up 18.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.

Carson’s signature game was a 40-point performance at UNLV on Nov. 19.

“(I am) very happy and pleased with my career here at Arizona State,” Carson said. “I’ve had great coaches, I’ve had great mentors, people to help guide me, just not in the basketball aspect of my life, but outside, my personal life.

“I look back at it and have no regrets.”

The coaching staff made several changes throughout the season, such as abandoning zone defenses and countless tweaking to the rotation. Following the loss to UA on Jan. 16, the coaches decided to start sophomore Eric Jacobsen at power forward over junior Jonathan Gilling — a move designed to add length to the starting lineup while allowing Gilling to give a different boost coming off the bench.

With Carson, Bachynski, Marshall, Barnes and likely McKissic all departing, the team has several holes to fill over the offseason. The Sun Devils may need to rely on returners who were role players this season (Gilling, Jacobsen, junior forward Brandan Kearney and freshman guard Chance Murray) and incoming high school prospects (point guard Tra Holder, forward Connor MacDougall and guard Kodi Justice).

Despite the questions the team is facing going into next season, Sendek thinks the team is headed toward a favorable direction in the future.

“Our guys had a really good basketball season, and I think our basketball program has a lot of positive momentum, and we’ve made a lot of progress,” Sendek said. “Ultimately, I’m very proud of our men.”

Highlight of the season

The Sun Devils’ biggest win of the season was when they defeated then-No. 2 UA, the highest-ranked team ASU has ever beaten, in Tempe on Feb. 14. Fans rushed the court twice — once with 0.7 seconds left and again when the final buzzer sounded. The win made it all but official that ASU was destined for the NCAA tournament in 2014.

Low point of the season

The year came to a shocking end in the second round of the NCAA tournament when Texas sophomore center Cameron Ridley beat the final buzzer with a put-back layup off a missed 3-pointer. ASU worked its way back up from a 14-point deficit and prepared to play in overtime had Ridley not made the shot. It was the Sun Devils’ fourth loss in a row.

Most improved player

Like last season, it looked like Barnes would be stuck at the end of Sendek’s bench this year, but consistent hard work in practice and a 13-point game at UA on Jan. 16 gave Barnes a significant boost in minutes for the rest of the season. He had been praised for his 3-point shooting, hustle and on-ball defense.

Reach the reporter at jnacion@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Josh_Nacion