They say that life is a game of inches. Sports is no different. One inch here or there can make the difference between the elation of victory and the agony of defeat. On Thursday night, the Sun Devils fell a few inches short. It was fitting though, that Arizona State's biggest flaw turned out to be its demise: rebounding.
The Sun Devils were two-tenths of a second away from forcing overtime against the Texas Longhorns. It was then, when the ball left Cameron Ridley's hand in a desperation putback attempt. After taking its time in dramatic fashion, the ball tickled the twine of the net, sinking the Sun Devils and lifting Texas to a 87-85 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
After two Jonathan Gilling free throws tied the game at 85, Texas had 16 seconds to set up a potential game-winning shot. The Sun Devils played excellent defense, forcing a Jonathan Holmes miss from 3-point territory. However, Ridley, as he was there all night, scooped up the lose ball and ended Arizona State's season with a kiss off the glass.
Unlike in recent games, there was no slow start for the Sun Devils. There was no lack of energy. Both teams came out and put on a shooting clinic in the game's opening minutes. Texas started six-for-six from the field, as the Sun Devils dared the Longhorns to beat them from the outside. They did. The Longhorns shot 53-percent from the field and 5-of-12 from three-point territory.
In the first half, every time Texas punched, Arizona State swung back. The Longhorns went on a 9-0 to stretch their first half lead to 30-21, Arizona State answered with their own 7-0 run. After the first 20 minutes, the Longhorns led 41-36.
Texas came out in the second half and extended its lead to as many as 14. Most fans stilling at home believed the Sun Devils were done when they trailed 61-47 with 12:11 left. However, Herb Sendek and company had one final run in them. They outscored Texas 17-5 in the next four minutes of game time to pull within two.
The Sun Devils pulled even with 3:18 left, when Jermaine Marshall came free off a screen to nail a 3-pointer from the wing. A free throw by Jordan Bachynski gave Arizona State a 81-80 lead with 2:20 left in the game, their first lead since it was 19-18 early in the first half.
Arizona State actually outrebounded Texas 32-30, even on the offensive glass the Sun Devils ended with a 11-10 edge. However, the Longhorns recorded nine offensive rebounds in the second half, including three in the last two minutes of the game.
All three of them were from Ridley, who scored Texas' final seven points. His first came off an air-ball from Isaiah Taylor, to give Texas a 82-81 lead. Arizona State retook the lead on a Bachynski dunk off a nice feed from Carson.
The following Texas possession, Javan Felix missed a three but Ridley was there again. This time with Gilling draped on his back, leading to a foul and a three-point play to put Texas up 85-83. His final offensive rebound will be talked about in Sun Devil nation for a long time.
Jordan Bachynski played one of his best games of the season, posting 25 points and seven rebounds in a losing effort. He was tasked with guarding Ridley, who scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Jahii Carson added 19 points, nine assists, five rebounds and was 7-for-9 from the free throw line.
The Sun Devils as a team missed 10 total free throws. All five Texas starters finished in double figures. The Longhorns also finished with 18 fast break points and tallied five blocks.
The Sun Devils battled. They showed heart and grit, against a bigger, more physical Texas team. In the end, they were victims to the Madness in March.