ASU men's basketball, missing four players for a second consecutive game, lost to USC 73-64 in Tempe on Saturday, marking the team's third straight loss.
Senior guard Remy Martin, sophomore guard Jaelen House and junior forward Taeshon Cherry were all unavailable due to COVID protocols. Sophomore forward Jalen Graham was also out with mononucleosis. All four players missed the team's previous matchup against UCLA.
ASU remained competitive against a strong opponent thanks to another strong defensive performance, forcing 16 turnovers and limiting USC to 3-22 shooting from deep.
However, the Sun Devils again missed the shot creation and playmaking of Martin early in the game, as their offense stagnated and was largely dependent on difficult shots that came out of isolation offense against an imposing Trojan defense.
The absence of Cherry and Graham was also felt on the glass, being outrebounded 28-15 in the first half and falling behind by 18 points with just over two minutes left in the period.
But ASU finished the period strong on the back of aggressive, pressure-focused defense and the shooting of senior guard Holland Woods, who scored 11 points in the final two minutes to lead the team on a 14-0 run.
"(Woods), in the last three and a half, four minutes, really stepped up and refused to let the slide continue and made a lot of big plays and gave us hope and gave us a chance," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said.
ASU (4-5) maintained its defensive effort throughout much of the second half, as a Woods steal and score put them up 58-56 with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
But the Trojans' defense, which entered the contest holding opponents to just 35.9% shooting, the fourth-best mark in the country, responded with a game-changing stretch of its own, holding ASU scoreless for the next 4:28 and allowing them to retake a decisive advantage.
Freshman forward Evan Mobley led USC's defensive effort, finishing with six blocks and 13 rebounds.
Hurley also attributed ASU's poor finish, in part, to fatigue from its exhausting effort against UCLA, in which four players each saw over 40 minutes of action.
"It probably took a lot out of us to recover from that," Hurley said. "We just didn't have enough to finish."
Thanks to Mobley and USC's defense, ASU shot just 33.9% from the field and had 12 shots blocked as most of its leading scorers struggled to score efficiently.
Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 17 points but shot just 4-13 from the field. Freshman guard Josh Christopher scored 11 points but shot 3-11 overall. Freshman forward Marcus Bagley, who grabbed 13 rebounds for ASU, shot just 3-12 to score 11 points.
Woods was the only exception to the team's offensive struggles, scoring a season-high 18 points on 7-15 shooting.
Mobley also powered USC's offense, scoring 19 points on just seven field goal attempts. Redshirt senior guard Tahj Eaddy added 16, while sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley, Evan Mobley's brother, finished with 13.
ASU was dominated on the boards yet again despite a strong defensive effort, being outrebounded by a 50-30 margin.
Despite losing two consecutive games coming off of a three-week layoff due to COVID-related circumstances, Hurley said the team's recent performances have been more encouraging than earlier losses to San Diego State and UTEP, in which he said their effort faltered.
"(With) what we've been up against, and (with) all the guys who we've had unavailable, to be able to compete and have chances to win in both games against two of the better teams in the conference, it's a good statement for us," Hurley said. "We just have to bring that same competitive spirit."
ASU will next face No. 17 Oregon on the road on Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. MST.
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