As Washington State freshman guard Malachi Flynn walked the ball across midcourt and Sun Devil fans vacated their seats, the final seconds ticked off the clock in Wells Fargo Arena.
The Sun Devils’ field goal percentage was sitting at 41.3 percent in their 91-83 defeat against the Cougars.
As has been the story for nearly the entire 2016-17 season, the Sun Devils struggled early on to stop teams in the paint, and this lead to some pretty questionable shooting in the second half.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley primarily relied on rotating freshman center Roman Vila and senior forward Obinna Oleka down low in this game, but WSU forward Josh Hawkinson bullied both of them. The Shoreline, Wash. native finished the game with 31 points and 10 rebounds, while converting all nine of his free throw opportunities.
Hurley complimented the big man’s performance after the game.
“We knew that Hawkinson was going to be a problem, with his size and his skills”, the second-year coach admitted, “for a big guy, he moved fairly well”.
He did move fairly well, and the Sun Devils’ lack of depth at the position did not help.
Oleka is a true forward, if not a very physical guard, and while Vila has improved on both sides of the floor in recent games, at times his rebounding and shot-blocking efforts weren’t convincing. Outside of those two ASU doesn’t truly have another option, as freshman center Jethro Tshiumpa played a measly two minutes and gathered one rebound.
The minutes in the post were all over the place, and Hurley said it had a lot to do with ASU’s slow start both offensively and defensively.
“We got off to a slow start, and it affected our substitution patterns,” he said.
It was this slow start and lack of depth that lead to the poor shot selection in the second half.
Although senior forward Torian Graham has taken contentious shots all season, his decisions seemed especially questionable Sunday afternoon. Graham finished the game with 18 shots, by far the most on the team, and at one point was shooting 2-for-10 from the field.
Oleka, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice rounded up the list of other Sun Devils who shot at less than a 50-percent clip against the Cougars.
Hurley seemed frustrated with this, adding that his team “just took some awful shots” in the second half against Washington State.
This was true, as the Sun Devils failed to get back in transition and defend the low post, the Cougars demolished ASU from the three-point line, hitting 10 of 19 from beyond the ark.
Evans briefly spoke to the media following Sunday’s loss, adding that the team “needs to play together more, and stop doing things we’re not capable of doing.
“I feel like sometimes we take bad shots. It’s kinda demoralizing.”
Evans was the best distributor on offense in a game where the Sun Devils were a bit shy to share the ball, leading the team in assists with only three. Washington State, on the other hand, doubled the Sun Devils’ assists by compiling 20. The Cougars seemed to be the antithesis of the Devils Sunday, spreading the ball around, taking open looks and providing depth in the post.
The Sun Devils will need to find a solution to their poor post play and shot selection before next weekend, as a date with the Ducks in Eugene, Ore. doesn’t bode well for any team, struggling or not.