After opening the season with 14 wins in its first 16 games, the Sun Devil basketball team displayed potential unseen in Tempe in recent years. On Sunday night, Arizona State had an opportunity to improve to 4-0 in conference play for the fourth time in 35 seasons, but unfortunately, the Sun Devils' greatest weakness halted their winning streak.
Arizona State's struggles from the free throw line have been well documented this season, and the 13-foot freebies continued to haunt the maroon and gold in a frustrating 68-65 loss to the Oregon Ducks in Eugene.
As a team, Arizona State managed just nine attempts from the free throw line over 40 minutes and sunk just five of those shots. The Sun Devils entered Sunday's competition shooting just 61.6% from the free throw line on the season, and the Achilles' heel finally caught up to the team this weekend.
The Ducks brought a 17-game home winning streak into the matchup at Matthew Knight Arena, but the quirky confines of Matthew Knight Arena didn't bother a Sun Devils squad that opened up the game on a tear from the field.
Jahii Carson and the Devils' hit seven of their first 12 shots, and held a 19-13 advantage after just 10 minutes of play. A recently subdued Evan Gordon broke out of his shell in the early going and scored eight points in a row for the Sun Devils, but the Ducks' impressive balance caught up to Arizona State.
Behind standout guard play from freshmen Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson, the Ducks caught fire midway through the first half and stormed back to take the lead on a Dotson three-pointer with just over two minutes left in the first half.
While Arizona State outscored the Ducks in the second half, the Devils' inability to get to the line and knock down free throws cost them eventually. Jahii Carson churned out another 20-point game, Carrick Felix made clutch shots throughout the second half, and the Sun Devils committed just 12 turnovers over the course of the game. The maroon and gold shot 47.3 percent from the floor, but the Sun Devils couldn't seem to break a pesky Oregon squad.
The Ducks mixed up their offensive schemes well and were efficient from the perimeter en route to a 6-11 performance from beyond the arc. Perhaps more importantly, Oregon chose its opportunities to take advantage of the Sun Devils in the paint wisely and limited Jordan Bachynski's defensive effectiveness. The 7-foot-2-inch center did tally three blocks, but the Ducks ensured that Bachynski was not a factor in the waning minutes of the game.
In the second half, Ducks' center Tony Woods scored 12 points of his 14 points including four in the final two minutes to help ice the victory for his team. While the Ducks didn't necessarily look like the superior team on Sunday, they did everything they needed to do to come out on top.
Every time Arizona State appeared to seize momentum, Oregon had an answer.
Ultimately, these two teams provided a highly entertaining and compelling matchup, but somebody had to lose. While the Sun Devils shot just 5-9 from the charity stripe, the Ducks' consistency carried over to the line as they shot 14-15.
Point guard Jahii Carson went 2-5 from the line, but the loss does not fall squarely on the freshman's shoulders. If not for his incredible play, the Sun Devils wouldn't be in the position to win important conference games like the one they played tonight. Eventually, another player has to attack the rim with regularity and force the defense to leave a man open for a double team, or commit a shooting foul in the lane.
With a freshman like Carson, a leader like Carrick, and an obvious weakness for the Sun Devils to work on, it is certain that the Sun Devils best days are still ahead of them.