ASU’s quest for a perfect season ended Friday night with a 72-66 defeat at the hands of the No. 6 Nevada Wolf Pack.
The Sun Devils held a 12-point lead heading into halftime, but a myriad of disjointed offensive possessions, poor defensive execution and foul trouble handed ASU its first defeat of the year.
“I thought it was a really hard-fought battle between two winning programs,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “I loved how we started, our intensity and aggression on defense made things very difficult. We got off to the kind of start you love to get off to in a game like this.”
Superstar freshman guard Luguentz Dort once again led the way for the Sun Devils, pouring in a game-high 24 points on 9-19 shooting from the field and 3-8 from three. He almost single-handedly sustained an ASU offense that struggled to find its rhythm all night, repeatedly making his way to the basket for easy buckets.
Dort often stood above the fray both offensively and defensively. He was tasked with containing Nevada senior forward Caleb Martin, who came into Friday's matchup averaging 19.9 points per game to lead the team. Dort responded to the challenge by holding the preseason All-American to three first-half points on 1-7 shooting en route to one of his worst offensive outings of the season thus far with 15 points.
“He’s a competitor, he got after it on defense, and he gave a lot of good energy on that end of the floor,” Hurley said. “Lu (Dort) and (redshirt senior forward) Zylan (Cheatham) both had exceptional offensive games as well for the stage and how the game was going. I thought Lu made some big plays down the stretch when we were trying to fight back into it."
Save for Dort, ASU struggled to find the bottom of the net Friday night, shooting 40.3 percent (25-62) from the field along with 25 percent (5-20) from three.
Both sophomore guard Remy Martin and redshirt junior guard Rob Edwards made their returns from injury Friday, yet neither played anywhere near their capabilities as they went a combined 1-15 from the field and 1-7 from three, totaling just five points scored by Martin.
“I don’t think we executed on offense the way we can,” Cheatham said. “I don’t think we got the ball to multiple sides of the floor, or shared the ball like we did in the first half. We just have to learn from it and figure it out.”
The struggles Martin and Edwards faced on the court were only a small part of an overall frustrating offensive outing for the Sun Devils, who looked uncharacteristically tense in their biggest test of the season thus far.
A week after helping beat Texas Southern by contributing 19 points and 14 rebounds, redshirt sophomore forward Romello White was held in check Friday only managing two points on 1-4 shooting from the field and three rebounds.
Same goes for freshman forward Taeshon Cherry, who had begun to find his groove before Friday's game, where he only scored six points.
“We had several examples in the second half where we shot way too fast,” Hurley said. “They were kind of set, but it wasn’t a great transition shot attempt. That gave them the possession right back and we kept putting pressure on ourselves.”
While there are certainly positives to take away from Friday’s matchup if you’re ASU, blowing a 12-point halftime lead leaves an especially bad taste in your mouth. The opportunity was there for the Sun Devils to pick off one of the best teams in the country, yet they were simply unable to grasp it.
While the pieces are certainly there to compete with the nation’s best, this ASU team has a long way to go before they’re ready to enter the national title conversation. To some though, they’re closer than one might think.
“It’s a great sign that we were able to be this competitive against a top-ten program,” Hurley said. “They made the plays though, and they have older guys who expect to win and are winners. I thought it was a heck of a basketball game, and it really felt like an NCAA tournament game.”