ASU men's basketball will take on Texas Christian University in the final game of the NCAA Tournament's Round of 64 on Friday evening in Denver's Ball Arena for a chance to make its first Round of 32 appearance since 2009.
ASU advanced to the tournament's final 64-team field by handling the University of Nevada, Reno 98-73 in the last game of the First Four Wednesday evening.
TCU finished the season 21-12 overall and 9-9 in the Big 12, considered by many to be the country's best conference.
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Despite a 13-1 start that included wins over Baylor, Iowa and Providence, the Horned Frogs lost seven of their final 11 games, including a semifinal 66-60 defeat to Texas in the Big 12 Conference Tournament.
The loss to Texas came amid controversy: TCU sophomore center Eddie Lampkin Jr. stepped away from the team last week after accusing head coach Jamie Dixon of misconduct, including racially insensitive remarks, in a now-deleted post on Instagram. Lampkin Jr. has since entered the transfer portal.
Lampkin Jr., who spent much of this season with an ankle injury, rose to national prominence after a 20-point, 14-rebound performance in a narrow loss to Arizona in the 2022 NCAA Tournament's Round of 32. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 6.3 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24 games this season.
Without Lampkin Jr., TCU's starting lineup in the Big 12 Tournament included no players taller than 6-foot-9 junior forward Xavier Cork, who is averaging 4.5 points and 2.6 rebounds on the season.
This makes 7-foot senior center Warren Washington the X-factor for the Sun Devils. Despite often relying on guards to create scoring opportunities, running offense through Washington is a situation ASU is comfortable with.
"(Warren) has always been a great passer," said fifth-year guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. "He's — what do you call it, a point forward? If he had a chance, he would be a point forward. He would bring the ball up, a little Magic Johnson."
Cambridge Jr. had 17 points and six assists against Nevada, one of five Sun Devils in double figures. He stressed after the Nevada game that ASU's balanced scoring attack gives them a chance against even the country's best teams.
"We're a very deep team. Everyone on the team can score," Cambridge Jr. said. "When we're clicking like that, we're hard to stop."
Two of ASU's double-digit scorers, sophomore guard Jamiya Neal and redshirt senior guard Luther Muhammad, did it off the bench. Dixon said he was impressed by ASU's depth against Nevada — the Sun Devils finished the game with 33 bench points — but he expects ASU to cool down offensively.
"Everybody looks good when they make shots, and they made shots for 40 minutes," Dixon said.
READ MORE: ASU routs Nevada to advance to Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament in Denver
Even if ASU is connecting on tough shots, the key to a Sun Devil victory may be their ability to take care of the ball.
TCU leads Division I in fast-break points per game at 17.9, two points more than second-place Cornell. The Horned Frogs have four players who average over a steal per game, including junior point guard Mike Miles Jr.
Miles Jr., an AP All-American honorable mention, said TCU's focus will be preventing ASU from gaining confidence offensively.
"They're a good team, very athletic, can shoot," he said after practice Thursday. "Our job is not to let them get comfortable shooting the ball."
The status of freshman backup point guard Austin Nunez, who has missed seven straight games in concussion protocols, is unknown. Nunez has been a full participant in practice and warmed up with the team in the lead-up to the Nevada game for the first time since he sustained his head injury against Utah on Feb. 18.
In Nunez's absence, Neal has averaged 8.7 points per game while playing significant minutes as the backup point guard.
The Sun Devils enter the weekend with experience playing in Denver's high-elevation environment. Ball Arena is the Denver Nuggets' home arena and sits 5,280 feet above sea level.
"We've had to go play at Colorado and Utah and higher elevation places," Hurley said. "So I'm not saying it's going to be easy, and we'll see how we adjust to it, but we were okay this year at Colorado."
Both teams will enter the contest motivated, knowing that losing means their season is over. Junior guard DJ Horne said ASU is ready.
"When you're on this stage, I feel like you have to get up for every game. And if you're not, what kind of basketball player are you?"
The game will tip off at 7:05 p.m. MST Friday and will be broadcast on truTV and the NCAA March Madness Live app. The winner will play either Gonzaga or GCU in the round of 32 on Sunday.
Edited by Walker Smith, Piper Hansen and Grace Copperthite.
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