After a road trip to the Bay Area which saw the Arizona State Sun Devils lose a pair of games by a total of seven points, Bobby Hurley's team returns to action tonight against the Oregon State Beavers in what feels like a must win game.
The visitors from Corvallis have had their share of struggles lately as well, but seem to be on the right track after a win against No. 21 USC on Sunday. The victory moved Oregon State to just two games out of first place in the Pac-12 race.
The Beavers and Arizona State will meet tonight in a game that feels much bigger for the Sun Devils, who currently sit in a tie for last in league play.
Tip-off: 6:30 p.m. MT
Television: Pac-12 Networks
Arizona State Update (11-9, 1-6 Pac-12):
Despite rallying from a double digit deficit twice on Saturday at Stanford, the maroon and gold were unable to get off The Farm with a victory. The loss was their third in a row, and all memories of a successful nonconference season have died.
Point guard Tra Holder led the team with 18 points in the losing effort, while Willie Atwood poured in 16 points and grabbed five rebounds.
Forward Savon Goodman had one of his top performances since returning from his four game absence, scoring 11 points off the bench.
Oregon State Update (12-6, 3-4 Pac-12):
Wayne Tinkle's team broke their own three-game losing streak last weekend, dominating the Trojans for an impressive 85-70 win. The Beavers able to distance itself from USC in the second half thanks to an increased intensity on the defensive end of the floor.
They finished the final 20 minutes of the game with seven steals and five blocks, and with an ASU team on tap that struggles at times on offense, a repeat performance could be in the cards.
The Beavers will be heavily reliant on senior guard Gary Payton II, who has scored in double figures in all but one game so far this year. He had 22 points and 15 rebounds on Sunday.
The freshman duo of Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. is dangerous as well, but inconsistency often plagues at least one of them. They will both need to play well tonight to support Payton against a stingy Arizona State defense.
Keys to victory:
1. Contain Payton
While Payton does have the ability to drop 20 with ease, he is not immune to a poor shooting night. He was 5-of-13 from the field in a loss earlier this month at Utah, then shot 6-of-12 in his next game against UCLA. The Sun Devils need to force the guard into some bad shots and make either Tinkle or Thompson beat them.
2. Start quick
The Sun Devils have had a bad habit recently of falling behind big early in games. They are usually able to come all the way back once the second half rolls around, but the energy spent climbing that mountain leaves the team tired in the closing minutes.
Getting off to a good, clean start in this one will be key. They did just that two weeks ago in a home game against Washington State and were able to cruise to victory, but have not had the same luck since.
3. Get Justice back on track
After breaking out with 16 and 17 point outputs against Washington State and Washington, combo guard Kodi Justice had a rough weekend up in the Bay. Arizona State needs his ability to bury three-pointers and stretch defenses to rescue it from their regular offensive droughts.
Prediction: Arizona State - 74, Oregon State - 71