ASU men's basketball ousted by Colorado in first round of the Pac-12 tournament

ASU's free throw woes and Colorado's three-point performance was too much for the Sun Devils

ASU men’s basketball was in search of its Las Vegas magic during the Pac-12 tournament after a disappointing 8-10 finish in conference play during the regular season. The Sun Devils upset then-No. 15 Xavier to win the Continental Tire Invitational tournament in November in Las Vegas to shape the team’s impressive 12-0 non-conference record. 

But on Wednesday, ninth-seed ASU’s Las Vegas luck ran out during the first-round of the Pac-12 tournament, losing to eight-seed Colorado 97-85. 

The Sun Devils are now 7-20 in Pac-12 tournament play. 

“I thought we had too many breakdowns on defense,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game. "We allowed the percentages that Colorado shot both in two-point field goals and particularly three-point field goals. Those percentages were excellent. So, great for Colorado that they shot that well today from three.”

ASU shot an alarming 57 percent (12-for-21) from the free-throw line and put on an underwhelming defensive performance in the second half –  they gave up 56 second half points. 

“We work on free throws every day,” senior forward Kodi Justice said post-game. “Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn’t. You can’t get caught up in that because we had other opportunities in the game that we could’ve made.”

Its top two leading scorers, senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, were held to just 28 points on 10-for-27 shooting from the field (37 percent). 

Colorado, by no surprise, played a 2-3 zone during Wednesday’s matchup. The zone defense has been ASU’s kryptonite throughout conference play, and it worked against them once again during its loss to the Buffalo. 

Holder and Evans had 14 points on the afternoon.

“Our big thing was we had to contest their jump shots,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said after the game. “They are very capable shooters and if you leave them open and let them get in a rhythm they can get hot and shoot you out of this thing. So, the big thing was contest their three’s and make them beat us with tough two’s”. 

If there was a positive sign for ASU, it was freshman guard Remy Martin. After being named co-sixth man of the year in the Pac-12, he followed that with a 20-point performance against Colorado. Justice finished with 14 points. 

Colorado, on the other hand, had one of its best three-point shooting performances this season. They actually shot better from beyond the arc at (62 percent) than they did from the field (53 percent). 

The Buffalos controlled every important facet of the game. They out rebounded ASU 39-26, outscored its bench 44-32 and outscored them in points in the paint 38-24. They also had an outstanding six players in double-figures.

The team’s leading scorer, freshman guard McKinley Wright IV, finished the game two rebounds shy of a triple-double with 20 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists – he shot 57 percent from the field. Freshman forward Tyler Bey added a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Colorado finished the first half on an 8-0 run, anchored by back-to-back three-pointers by senior guard Dominique Collier to give the Buffalo a 41-37 lead heading into halftime. His two threes were part of an outstanding shooting performance by Colorado in the first half, as they shot 64 percent. 

They continued with the hot hand in the second half. 

Freshman guard D’Shawn Schwartz’s two three-pointers and Wright’s fast-break layup powered Colorado’s 10-0 run to give it the 66-60 lead with 8:52 remaining. The Buffalo called for a heat-check a minute later, as Wright nailed a three-pointer followed by a King layup to give Colorado a 71-61 lead at the 7:40 mark. 

But with the way ASU has played all season, it was expected they make a late-game comeback. 

That was not the case against Colorado Wednesday. 

The Sun Devils’ defensive struggles were obvious against the Colorado, as they failed to make adjustments in the second half. They gave up 56 points and Colorado shot 60 percent from long-distance in the second half.

“Rotations and second efforts,” Martin said about his team’s defensive breakdowns. “We have to keep playing the game even though we get one stop, we have to keep going and keep playing the game”

This loss arguably puts ASU’s NCAA tournament hopes in jeopardy, as they have dropped four of its last five games. Although, Hurley continues advertising ASU’s non-conference wins against potential No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament – Kansas and Xavier. 

“I mean I felt like we were in the tournament coming into this game regardless if the outcome,” Hurley said. “Just, again, we were the last undefeated team in college basketball. We went and played high level opponents on the road and on neutrals … So, I think we have like 10 top-100 wins at the moment in KenPom. Yeah, I believe we are in the NCAA tournament.” 




Reach the reporter at fcorral1@asu.edu or follow @felipecorraljr on Twitter.  

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