Down 58-56, as the last five seconds in the game ticked away, senior guard Shannon Evans II had a look at the basket from in-between the left corner and left wing that three-point specialists crave. Nevertheless, the game-winning triple clanked off the rim as less than a second remained on the clock.
Just like that, the ASU men’s basketball team had the door abruptly shut on their historic campaign in the 60-56 loss to the Syracuse University Orange.
The Sun Devils let it slip away in the final minutes. At one point, the maroon and gold led by seven with 7:05 left in the First Four game.
Syracuse didn’t need all seven minutes. Instead, the Orange sunk four of their last five field goals seemingly ending ASU’s season.
Even so, they just couldn’t break Syracuse’s formidable 2-3 zone defense enough to run away with the victory.
“It was their length, athleticism, the way they take away the corners, kind of taking away the middle, it was difficult,” Justice said in a post-game press conference.
On the other hand, all of the Orange’s 60 points came from their starting five. Freshman forward Oshae Brissett collected 23 points and 12 boards. While the efforts of sophomore guard Tyus Battle and junior guard Frank Howard amassed 27 points.
The individual scoring numbers hide the Sun Devils’ downfall: inconsistent offense.
At halftime, Syracuse led ASU 30-28. It was the second-lowest first half of scoring from the Sun Devils since they were held to 27 in a loss to the University of Washington.
The same Washington team coached by Mike Hopkins, a former Syracuse assistant coach, who implements an Orange-esque 2-3 zone.
Jim Boeheim, the head coach of Syracuse, can chalk up another victory thanks to the team’s tenacious defense.
It was the size and horizontal quickness in the defense of the Orange players that replicated the first half score to the final score. ASU finished with 28 second-half points, the same as the first.
The loss is the sixth defeat out of the last seven games for head coach Bobby Hurley and company.
“I don’t look at the season in any stretch of the mind as a disappointment,” Hurley said. “These guys are warriors. They fought. They delivered some memories that I’ll always remember in some of the key games that we won this year … they elevated Arizona State basketball, the seniors have.”
Although it’s not the conclusion they would’ve preferred, ASU’s loss in Dayton is the ending to the Sun Devil careers of Justice, Holder and Evans.
“Personally mine’s (college basketball career) meant everything to me,” Evans said. “The opportunity coach Hurley gave me … is something I’ll never forget.”