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Column: Sun Devils’ downward spiral hits questionable lows in Utah loss

Are the Devils fine?

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

There’s a meme floating through the internet with a dog surround by flames staying calm while uttering, “this is fine.”

After No. 21 Arizona State’s 80-77 overtime loss to Utah (13-7, 5-4 Pac-12) on Thursday night, Sun Devil guard Remy Martin said something along the same lines.

“We’re fine, we’re fine,” Martin said after posting 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting. “A lot of people think this is the end of the world because we lost this game, but we’re fine. We’re still going to go in the gym and, you know, we still have a winning record.”

The once bright outlook surrounding Sun Devil basketball has gotten a bit cloudier, raising the question: Are they indeed fine?

The Devils’ loss Thursday will defiantly kick them out of the AP Top 25 Poll. The team that jumped out to a program-best 12-0 record, now sits at 15-5. Their 3-5 Pac-12 record puts them in third-to-last place in a mediocre conference and some are actually starting to wonder if ASU is a tournament team — a blasphemous statement had it been made a month ago.

ASU has been a different team in conference play. It’s no secret. Many, though, have been waiting for the Devils to break through a slump that’s lasted now eight games. Some thought the second-coming of non-conference ASU had started in its last game against Cal.

The Devils shot their best percentages in Pac-12 play by hitting 48 percent from the field and from beyond the arc.

That hope will have to wait, however. ASU lost its first game of a Pac-12 weekend series, something it has done in every conference series so far.

When asked about it, Hurley took a similar path in answering it as Martin did with his question:

“I mean we won 12 in a row so I think we can win two in a row,” Hurley said. “We have not been able to do that so far. [It’s] a hard start being sent on the road for five of the first seven.”

Hurley’s comments allude to some truth. ASU has played tough teams in Arizona and, to a lesser-extent, Oregon; as well as going on the daunted Rocky Mountain road trip early in conference play.

Hosting a mediocre Utah team (No. 57 in ESPN’s RPI and 70th in KenPom’s rankings), however, was not marked as one of those tough games, especially for a ranked team.

But in the Utah loss, Arizona State’s heralded coach’s decisions and its veteran team’s late actions cost the Devils an opportunity to string together a pair of conference wins.

Down eight midway through the second half, ASU brought itself from being in striking distance into the lead. Martin scored 10 straight points on what ended up as 13-0 run for the Sun Devils.

“Remy, I thought was really good in the second half to breath some life back into the team as things weren’t going great,” Hurley said.

ASU was engulfed in a neck-and-neck battle for the rest of the game — one in which the Devils were confident, judging how multiple players eagerly pumped up an adoring crowd of 11,536 during a late timeout.

And why wouldn’t they have been? The Sun Devils have faired well in those close games this season, especially at home.

Down a pair with under a minute to play, Tra Holder drove to the hoop and collected an and-one to give ASU back the lead. With nine seconds to play, Shannon Evans extended that lead to three with a contested layup.

So here was the situation: ASU was down three with nine seconds to play. Bobby Hurley didn’t have any timeouts left and Utah was taking out the ball under the Devils’ basket.

Put into that situation, one should foul.

A foul would send Utah with the line down three. Even if they made both free throws, ASU would still be up one.

The Devils, though, didn’t.

They let Ute guard Sedrick Barefield sprint up the court and, while approaching the 3-point line, he darted to the right of Martin and leaned heavily to his right, launching up a shot.

Tie game. Overtime.

“I mean it happens. He hit a good shot,” Martin said. “We just have to pull it out. I think it’s up to me because I was guarding him to at least know that we’re up three and that he shouldn’t get a wide-open three. But, that’s something that we’re going to learn.”

It seemed to happen in an instant. There was little time to become aware of the situation, but a situation nonetheless that any team put into that position needs to be aware of, especially one that had three seniors on the court.

Hurley said he wished he had a timeout available so that he could inform his team of “what we’re going to try and do late game.”

Without a timeout, Hurley said there was little he could have done.

“Whether it is foul prior to giving them a chance to shoot it, or just making sure they take a two and then it’s a contested three,” Hurley said. “There was just too much going on. You start screaming ‘foul him’, I mean it just wasn’t the right situation to be able to convey that message to our team.”

The Utes powered to an 11-8 advantage in overtime — an outcome ASU could have overcome had a few shots fallen and few whistles been blown.

Lost is the shuffle of the no-foul, however, is the fact that Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was signaling for a timeout as Barefield ran up the court and hurled up his shot.

Oh, how that may have changed things on Thursday and throughout the rest of ASU’s season.

The Sun Devils say they’re fine but their actions aren’t showing it. Those showing doubt aren’t doing so in the non-conference version of ASU, they’re doing so in the conference version of the Sun Devils.

The Sun Devils still believe they can right the ship, and they should. But at the moment, their not fine. They need to get out of the burning house quick before their season is in flames.