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ASU vs. New Mexico State: Hurley ejected as Sun Devils falter in 81-70 loss

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Life without Sam.

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico State at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It turns out a pre-game technical in your team’s favor is just foreshadowing of what’s coming for you.

Such was the case for Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley during the Sun Devils’ 81-70 loss against the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday. Hurley was handed his first and second technicals of the year before being ejected from Wells Fargo Arena, marking the first instance since he was removed from ASU’s Feb. 17 loss against Arizona last season.

“I can’t jump into the body and the minds of the people that are working the game. I have a right to contest calls as the other coach did throughout the game, but that’s their decision on that,” Hurley said. “I handled it the way I wanted to after everything happened.”

Prior to tipoff, the Sun Devils (6-5) appeared to be in good standing with the refereeing crew. They were awarded a technical free throw when the Aggies failed to submit their lineup 10 minutes before the game started. Junior guard Shannon Evans II made the shot to give ASU a 1-0 lead without play having gotten underway.

That lead quickly vanished, as New Mexico State built an early lead utilizing its 3-point shooting.

The Sun Devils struggled with their perimeter rotations throughout the evening, and the Aggies took advantage. They shot 42.3 percent from 3-point territory overall, including 53.3 percent in the first half. NMSU made five of its first eight 3-point attempts en route to taking a 23-14 lead with 12:14 to go in the frame.

“In the first half we gave up too many transition baskets,” Hurley said. “They outran us a couple times. We lost some shooters where they got some 3’s. In a tight game like that, can’t afford to give up points.”

ASU responded by engineering a 10-0 run to reclaim the advantage, but the run was momentarily halted when Justice fell to the floor with an injury. The senior headed to the locker room, but returned to the bench following the timeout, appearing fine. He later returned to the action.

The Aggies would break out of their offensive slumber thanks to triples from guard Braxton Huggins (24 points, 6 of 11 3-pointers) and Joe Garza to retake the lead before heading into half with a 40-38 advantage.

Hurley said the deficit was reasonable, despite his group’s multiple breakdowns. However, out of the break, NMSU scored five quick points, while it took the Sun Devils over four minutes to score on a 3-pointer from junior point guard Tra Holder.

“We just didn’t come out great on offense the first four minutes,” the second-year head coach said. “We had a hard time scoring and that didn’t help because we dug a hole for ourselves again, and had a hard time getting out of that.”

The sharpshooting of the Aggies proved too much, as they built a 55-45 lead they didn’t look back from. Hurley drew his first technical with 11:36 left to go after Evans (nine points, seven assists) made a contested layup without earning a call.

Two minutes later, Hurley earned his second technical of the evening with 9:47 to go after disputing whether or not Evans was fouled on a 3-pointer attempt. He had made his way towards the locker room before the official had even issued the call.

NMSU senior guard Ian Baker, who poured in 14 of his 19 points in the second half, made both free technical throws, kickstarting a 22-9 Aggies run to help close out the Sun Devils, despite a spirited effort to fight back.

“I felt like when coach left we tried to regroup,” Evans said. “Tried to use that to our advantage, get some fire. We made a little push, but we couldn’t get it all the way there.”

The Sun Devils couldn’t work their way back, suffering a tough home defeat just a week after earning what appeared to be a season-altering victory on the road over San Diego State. ASU hasn’t put together a multi-game winning streak since its first two contests against Portland State and Cal Poly.

“It’s kind of tough,” Evans said. “We’ll get a bad loss, then a good win, bad loss, good win. It’s kind of hard bouncing around.”

The loss marks the first game the Sun Devils have played in since losing Sam Cunliffe to transfer. Hurley said the week has been hard for the team, but there’s some optimism to take away despite Saturday’s result.

With freshmen centers Jethro Tshisumpa (four fouls, five minutes) and Ramon Vila (three fouls, 16 minutes) dealing with foul trouble, forward Andre Adams saw extended time on the floor. The 6-foot-9 redshirt-freshman coming off an ACL injury played nine minutes, the most he’s played in his ASU career.

“I’m happy for Andre tonight,” Hurley said. “Did a nice job finishing around the basket, set some good screens, and the defense.”

Nonetheless, it’s clear the Sun Devils are still working things out. With conference play nearing, they’re aware they need to figure it out soon, according to Evans.

“We’ve gotta find our identity and try to bounce back and prepare for Tuesday,” he said.