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Short-handed ASU men's basketball loses overtime battle to UCLA

The Sun Devils were without four players in the team's fourth loss of the season

20191218 men's basketball vs Saint Mary's 0138

ASU now-senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. (11) looks to pass under pressure from Saint Mary's redshirt junior guard Tommy Kuhse (12), senior guard Jordan Ford (3) and sophomore forward/center Matthias Tass (11) in the second half on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. The Gaels defeated the Sun Devils 96-56.

A limited ASU men's basketball team could not fend off UCLA in an 81-75 overtime loss in Tempe on Thursday night.

The Sun Devils were without multiple key players for a variety of reasons. Senior guard Remy Martin missed the game attending his grandfather’s funeral, sophomore forward Jalen Graham was unavailable due to mononucleosis and both junior forward Taeshon Cherry and sophomore guard Jaelen House were unavailable due to non-injury and non-disciplinary reasons.

The Sun Devils struggled to find a consistent offensive presence early in the game without Martin, their preseason All-American, going 10 consecutive minutes without a made field goal in the first half. 

Even so, ASU (4-4) climbed back into the game with a combination of gritty defense and an offense that continuously attacked the paint. The Sun Devils forced seven first-half turnovers, scored 10 first-half points in the paint and made eight of nine free-throw attempts in the period.

ASU took a two-point lead into halftime despite having only four players score in the first half. Freshman guard Josh Christopher led the team with 10 first-half points.

In the second half, senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. carried the workload offensively for the Sun Devils, scoring 16 points in the period and hitting a pair of free throws to send the game to overtime. 

However, foul trouble got the best of the Sun Devils as senior forward Kimani Lawrence fouled out with less than four minutes left in the second half, and junior forward Chris Osten fouled out in overtime. 

UCLA outscored ASU 16-10 and shot 10 more free throws than the Sun Devils in overtime.

Freshman forward Marcus Bagley played in his first game since suffering a calf injury against Cal on Dec. 3. Bagley, the team’s leading rebounder, finished the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds. 

Verge Jr. noted the difference Bagley makes for the team, specifically his energy on both sides of the floor.

“It’s always good to have his presence on the court. He brings a lot of energy to our team offensively and defensively,” Verge Jr. said. “It’s a plus when he’s out on the court with us.”

Although Verge Jr. led the team in scoring with 25 points, he felt if he fine-tuned his shot selection in overtime, he could have changed the outcome of the game.

“It comes down to me making better decisions," Verge Jr. said. "I kind of sucked the defense in and took a couple (of) contested shots when I was really supposed to kick it out and make the better play. It’s just me making that adjustment throughout the game and knowing that I’ve got to make that play.”

Despite the loss, the Sun Devil team showed effort on the defensive and rebounding sides of the ball. The Bruins average just 11.7 turnovers per game, but ASU’s defense forced UCLA season-high 18 turnovers. 

ASU head coach Bobby Hurley took notice of his team’s tough play and praised it after the game.

“I’m just proud of my team’s effort," Hurley said. "I thought we battled extremely hard. I thought we held our own in the paint, held our own on the backboard and those were points of emphasis that we’re trying to get better at. To be short-handed and to have four guys play over 40 minutes and still compete the way we did, I thought was very honorable.”

ASU is scheduled to play USC next on Jan. 9 in Tempe at 5 p.m. MST.

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