After an inspiring overtime victory over the rival Arizona Wildcats last week, the ASU men's basketball team responded on Thursday with a disappointing 91-70 defeat to the middling Washington State Cougars.
The Sun Devils (15-7, 6-4) failed to generate consistent offense throughout Thursday’s contest, shooting a dismal 34 percent from the field and 15 percent from three.
ASU wasn’t much better on the other end of the court, allowing the Cougars (9-14, 2-8) to connect on 43 percent of their total shots and an impressive 40 percent from three. In total, the game was about as crushing a loss as the Sun Devils will suffer all season, and puts their March Madness aspirations in serious jeopardy.
“When you’re not playing well, you’ve got to limit your bad mistakes, and we made a lot of them,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “We can’t, across the board on so many different categories, be inept in a basketball game and expect to have any chance to win.”
Thursday’s loss was eerily similar to a defeat the Sun Devils suffered a few weeks ago, when ASU followed up on a thrilling four-point win against the then-number-one-ranked Kansas Jayhawks with a 66-67 loss to the Princeton Tigers. Similar to Thursday, ASU struggled to find the bottom of the basket and often appeared discombobulated on the offensive end of the floor.
“I’m not into making excuses, and there are none for this,” Hurley said. “You can’t beat the teams that we’ve been able to beat, and then a team that hasn’t won a road game in their season comes in and beats you at this stage of the season, you can’t have that go on.”
The bright spots in the loss were few and far between, but freshman guard Luguentz Dort put up his highest scoring total so far in Pac-12 play with 22 points on 6-12 shooting. The freshman, who started the season off strong, has failed to find consistency on the floor, as he has really struggled to shoot the ball in conference matchups. But he seemed to find some sort of rhythm on Thursday night, connecting on eight free throws, which was his second highest total of the season.
But overall, there weren’t many positives to take away from such a deflating loss.
Sophomore guard Remy Martin and redshirt junior guard Rob Edwards each struggled with shooting the ball, going a combined 5-28 (18 percent) from the field and 1-16 (6 percent) from three. Edwards’ performance was particularly disappointing, as the redshirt junior followed up his season-high 19 points against the Wildcats with one of the worst shooting outings of his career.
“We got some really good looks that just didn’t fall for us tonight,” redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham said. “Anybody who’s played basketball at this level knows that there are games like that, but that can’t be the reason why you lose. You have to rely on your defense. When both of those are going wrong it’s hard to win games.”
The loss to Washington State makes ASU's road to the Pac-12 Tournament significantly more treacherous.
The Cougars remain one of the worst teams in the conference, currently slotting 11th out of 12 in the conference standings, only besting the Cal Bears. Yet tonight, the team dominated the Sun Devils from start to finish, leading for almost 37 of the possible 40 minutes. The Cougars also had double the assists of ASU (22 to 11) and made seven more rebounds than ASU, who leads the conference in the category.
“They played harder than we did,” Hurley said. “We didn’t have the right approach, and we didn’t finish. We could’ve finished some of those layups, but we were just content with getting fouled and rolling the dice at the free throw line and that wasn’t good.”
The singular greatness of Cougars senior forward Robert Franks and his conference leading average of 22.1 points a game has not been enough to carry the Cougars to relevancy thus far, but his 34 points and 13 rebounds Thursday night were more than enough to put ASU away. No matter the defense, Franks was unstoppable as he connected on five-for-nine three-point attempts and was a perfect seven-for-seven on free throw attempts.
“Any mistakes we made, any space he got, he capitalized,” Cheatham said. “I take that personally though, we just have to do a better job with that.”
Up next for the Sun Devils is the Washington Huskies, who currently sit atop the Pac-12 standings and just dismantled Arizona 67-60. With Saturday’s game presenting one of the few remaining opportunities for ASU to drastically improve their resume, the pressure is on for the Sun Devils to convert when it matters most.
“We got a really good team coming in on Saturday, and I’m very excited for that game and very excited to get back on the floor with my guys,” Cheatham said. “It’s only a loss if you don’t learn from it.”
The Sun Devils host the Huskies on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 8:00 p.m. MST.