Las Vegas - The Pac-12 tournament has not been kind to Arizona State. The Sun Devils came into the 2015 conference tournament with an all-time record of 6-16 in Pac-12 Tournament games. It is the second worst mark of any conference team, behind only Washington State.
Wednesday afternoon was not much kinder, as the Sun Devils collapsed down the stretch against the USC Trojans. Missing 12 of their final 13 shots and falling to USC 67-64 in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
"We had a 15-point lead. I don't really know how to explain how it evaporated so quickly besides lack of hustle, energy," said Shaquielle McKissic. "It's been the name of the game all year."
Everything was going right for the Sun Devils in the first half, as they opened up a 15-point lead with just over four minutes left in the first. USC forward Nikola Jovanovic was limited with two early fouls and the Sun Devils took advantage, dominating the offensive glass early and taking a 38-28 lead into halftime.
The teams traded baskets for the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Sun Devils were never able to put away USC, however the Trojans could not break within eight points and with 9:00 left in the game, ASU held a 60-46 lead.
That is when things got messy for the Sun Devils. USC switched from a zone to man defense off and on during the first half. In the second half, they stuck to it and the Sun Devils had no answer.
The ball movement that helped give ASU a double-digit lead in the first half evaporated. The offensive rebounds disappeared, and with that so did the ASU lead.
"Whether it was a key turnover, a missed free throw, one play or another, the lead quickly went back down under double digits," said head coach Herb Sendek. "So what seemed to be a pretty good margin evaporated rather rapidly."
ASU shot just 62 percent from the free throw line and USC shot 52 percent from the field for the game, including making six of their final seven shots.
"I thought our defense certainly did not meet standards or expectations in the second half. And our opponent shot almost 58 percent. And so if you're going to do that, hopefully you're converting at the other end," said Sendek. "But it was just the opposite. We shot 62 percent from the foul line, 5 for 22 from 3. We had a number of I thought pretty good looks and we didn't convert."
USC guard Elijah Stewart scored nine straight points to pull USC to within 60-55 with 4:44 left in the game. Stewart finished with a game-high 27 points on 8-14 shooting.
"(I've) Just been putting in the preparation for this game. Getting the shots, working on dribble moves, coming off screens and stuff like that, and it showed in the game," said Stewart."
With 2:04 left in the game, USC took its first lead since the 12:32 mark of the first half when Darion Cook banked in a layup to give the Trojans a 63-62 lead. Besides their zone defense, the theme of the game for USC was attacking. The Trojans attacked the basket the entire second half, especially when ASU forward Eric Jacobsen was not on the court.
Leading the attack for USC was guard Julian Jacobs, who scored 12 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished five assists.
"Julian is in attack mode. Julian is one of the best I've seen at getting in the lane and using his body and using his athleticism to attack the rim," said USC head coach Andy Enfield.
Down by one with 35 seconds left, ASU missed on three consecutive shots to try to take the lead. The final of which came after a timeout by Sendek. With 11 seconds left McKissic was blocked at the rim by Jovanovic . USC swished two free throws and ASU missed a desperation three at the buzzer that would have tied the game.
"We lost a close game today," said Sendek. "And that never feels good. But I don't think that that in and of itself takes away from the progress they made and the efforts they've had with through the season as well."
For the second consecutive year, the Sun Devils will not win a game in the Pac-12 Tournament. However, unlike last year there will be no drama on Selection Sunday. At 17-15, ASU is nowhere near the bubble, and will most likely come short of a birth in the NIT.
While few can question the improvements this team made over the course of the season, the team that played the last five minutes Wednesday afternoon looked a lot like the team that lost to Maryland and Alabama in November. And the team that lost to Texas A&M and Lehigh in December.
For the Sun Devils, Wednesday afternoon was a microcosm of their season. Poor execution down the stretch leading to a heartbreaking loss. It is a script that is becoming all too familiar for ASU supporters.