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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils look to salvage split on Oregon Trail

Arizona State will look to snap a two-game losing streak when it visits the worst team in the Pac-12 on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Basketball: Oregon State at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

After an embarrassing loss in which the Arizona State Sun Devils gave up 91 points to Washington State last Sunday, Bobby Hurley’s team impressed even in defeat on Thursday in Eugene against No. 13 Oregon.

They would ultimately leave Matthew Knight Arena with a loss, but not before giving the heavily-favored Ducks all they could handle for 40 minutes in a 71-70 defeat.

The goal now is to build on the momentum gained from that performance, and Arizona State will look to do so tomorrow against the Oregon State Beavers. Losers of 15 of its last 16 games, Oregon State enters the matchup with a record of 4-19.

It is indeed a down year for Wayne Tinkle’s team, which is far and away the worst power conference team in the country this season. Over half of the club’s losses have come by double digit margins, and a consistent lack of effort has resulted in some incredibly bad basketball.

The Beavers will be looking for their first league win of the season when the Sun Devils roll through Gill Coliseum on Saturday, and their first win against a Pac-12 opponent since they beat Arizona State in the first round of the conference tournament last March.

Tip-off: 4:00 p.m. MST

Television: Pac-12 Networks

Arizona State Update (10-13, 3-7 Pac-12):

As we mentioned above, Thursday’s loss at Oregon may have actually been a step forward for this team despite notching another figure in the loss column. The Sun Devils showed they could compete on the road with one of the top teams in the country, even when the Ducks played great basketball in the second half (as opposed to the first 20 minutes of the game, which, um, weren’t so great).

Point guard Shannon Evans II led the way, topping all scorers with 28 points while playing all 40 minutes. It was Evans who tied the game at 64-64 with a deep three-pointer with two minutes remaining, and he also had a nifty layup to pull his team within three less than 90 seconds later.

Two other players finished the night in double figures. Junior Tra Holder had 17 points while playing all but one minute, and Buffalo transfer Torian Graham finished the outing with 13 points and four rebounds. Graham hoisted 10 three-pointers (and 26 field goals in total) in the loss.

Oregon State Update (4-19, 0-10 Pac-12):

This wasn’t supposed to happen in Oregon State’s first season after making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 26 years last March. But after losing five players due to graduation, one unexpected transfer, two departures due to personal reasons, and multiple injuries and suspensions, it doesn’t come as a surprise that this team has struggled so much.

After making four consecutive trips to the postseason at Montana, Wayne Tinkle was hired away by the Beavers to replace Craig Robinson three years ago. Tinkle has gone 40-46 while at the helm in Corvallis, a promising record that has been soiled by a dreadful 2016-17 campaign.

Tinkle’s latest loss came on Thursday night against Arizona, where his club actually led the No. 5 Wildcats by two points at halftime. That lead was ultimately short-lived, however, as Sean Miller’s team started the second half with a 19-5 run. The final score was 71-54.

Oregon State was led early on in the season by Wayne’s son, Tres Tinkle, who averaged 20.2 points per game in his first six contests of the season. Tinkle has been sidelined though since late November with a broken bone in his non-shooting wrist, and while he appears close to being ready to return to game action, he is doubtful for today’s meeting with Arizona State.

Guard Stephen Thompson Jr. is the team’s second-leading scorer, but of course, the sophomore has also missed time due to injury. Thompson is currently averaging 17 points per game.

Keys to victory:

1. Control Thompson

The Sun Devils should be able to escape Gill with a victory as long as Thompson is held at bay. The combo-guard has already had five 20-plus point performances this season, and this game will be tight if he goes for a sixth.

Doubling Thompson and forcing the freshman guards like Jaquori McLaughlin and Kendal Manuel to beat them will be a big key for Hurley’s team this afternoon.

2. Rely on Vila and Tshisumpa

An already-thin bench for the Maroon and Gold has been relatively ineffective throughout conference play, but eventually, Hurley will need to rely more on his young, raw big men Ramon Vila and Jethro Tshisumpa.

The two were the only Sun Devils to come off the bench on Thursday at Oregon, and the pair played just a combined 18 minutes. A game against the conference bottom-feeder will give Arizona State a good chance to give its starters a little more rest than they have been getting, while also allowing the sixth and seventh men to get a little more experience under their belt.

Prediction: Arizona State - 80, Oregon State - 75