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ASU basketball: No. 21 Sun Devils outgunned by Utah in overtime

Another weekday, another loss

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

Wells Fargo Arena was a sight for weary eyes, as the No. 21 Arizona State Sun Devils began Pac-12 play on the road in five of their first seven games. While ASU struggled to get its footing to begin the conference slate, maybe some home cooking was what the doctor ordered.

That wasn’t the case Thursday night, as the Sun Devils (15-5, 3-5 Pac-12) dropped their fifth consecutive first game of a weekend, losing 80-77 in overtime to the Utah Utes (13-7, 5-4), the inverse score of the first matchup between these teams in Salt Lake City.

Senior guard Tra Holder led all scorers with 23 points in the loss, but Utah junior guard Sedrick Barefield scored 17 points in the second half and overtime to lead his squad to the road win.

Once again, ASU got off to a hot start, making six out of its first eight shots to jump to an early 17-10 lead. It wouldn’t hold for long, as the Utes, led by sophomore center Jayce Johnson, surged back to seize a 40-33 halftime lead.

Similar to Stanford’s Josh Sharma, Johnson came off the bench and terrorized the Sun Devils in the paint, making five of six shots from the field in the first half and adding three free throws.

“We can’t let certain people on their team off their bench get loose,” freshman guard Remy Martin said, alluding to Johnson.

The dominance down low of the reserve big let senior guard Justin Bibbins roam around the 3-point arc, where he made four of his eight shots in the first half, spacing out the Sun Devil defenders.

The momentum carried forward into the final 20 minutes and Utes kept the Sun Devils at an arm’s length. Holding a 55-47 lead at the midway point of the second half, ASU needed a spark.

Remy Martin to the rescue.

Two free throws, two 3-pointers and a layup by the Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year candidate in the ensuing 2:28 gave the Sun Devils the lead back and sent Wells Fargo Arena into a frenzy.

Near deadlocked again, neither the Utes nor the Sun Devils blinked and the teams remained within five points all the way down the stretch, when an and-one by Holder put ASU up a point with 53 seconds remaining.

Up 67-66, senior guard Shannon Evans dribbled near halfcourt, running down the clock before making his move. With under 10 seconds left on the shot clock, Evans drove to the hoop and sank a layup, giving his Sun Devils a three-point lead.

There, coach Bobby Hurley would have loved to call a timeout to set his defense. The problem: he didn’t have any.

ASU had already used its allotment, with two in the first half and back-to-back timeouts with 1:06 remaining while trailing 64-62.

“We just didn’t have the extra one that I like to have at the end of the game,” Hurley said. “That would have been a great situation to try to call a timeout and let the guys become aware of what we’re going to try to do late-game.”

Instead, Barefield brought the ball up against Martin, made a move with about five seconds remaining and shot a leaning, uncontested 3, which swished through to tie the game at 69 with no time left on the clock, sending the game to overtime.

Barefield wasn’t done, as he scored six more points in overtime — including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining — fulfilling the wish of his head coach.

“I told him when Justin fouled out, ‘go win in,’” Utah coach Larry Krystowiak said. “It’s always good for confidence to get a guy going and make those plays.”

Despite the hot hands of the Utes, who made their final five shots from the field, the Sun Devils never trailed by more than three in the extra frame, but could not manage to get over the final hump, missing their final seven shots over the final 100 seconds.

But those misses pale in comparison in Hurley’s mind to the lax defense.

“The problem wasn’t our offense, it was our defense,” Hurley said. “We just didn’t get stops, at all, in overtime. The offense was scoring to keep us in there, but not enough.”

The loss drops the Sun Devils to two games under .500 in Pac-12 play after starting the year as the hottest team in the country. Despite ASU’s inconsistency and struggles since the new year began, Martin remains unconcerned.

“We’re fine,” Martin said. “A lot of people think this is the end of the world because we lost this game... no matter what, we’re going to stay true to ourselves and we’re going to get in the gym everyday and we’re going to fix this. Trust me.”