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ASU Basketball: No. 17 Sun Devils sluggish in upset loss to Princeton

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Tale of two weeks.

The Princeton men’s basketball team celebrates behind ASU freshman guard Luguentz Dort (0) after upsetting the 17th-ranked Sun Devils on Saturday, Dec. 29th, 2018 at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Arizona.
Andrew Palla/House of Sparky

Last week, Arizona State paraded the court with smiles on their faces after it upset the top ranked Kansas Jayhawks. Saturday, those Sun Devils stood on the Wells Fargo Arena court stunned. They watched the Princeton Tigers (7-5) celebrate in the same spot they did just seven days before.

“It defiantly hurts,” redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham said. “Basketball, it humbles you real quick to say the least. You go from an all-time high to an all-time low.”

Poor shooting, offensive efficiency and perimeter defense plagued the Sun Devils (9-3) in their 67-66 loss to Princeton. ASU finished 32% from the field on Saturday and an abysmal 2-for-15 from three-point range.

“No one really, with the exception of (Ro)Mello (White), no one really had a very great field goal percentage. We’re not going to beat anyone decent or good team playing shooting that way from the field,” Cheatham said.

The Sun Devils had a chance — well, three chances to win the game at the end. After junior center Richmond Arirguzoh made two free throws to put the Tigers up by one, head coach Bobby Hurley called a timeout with 24 seconds left.

Hurley drew up a play for redshirt junior guard Rob Edwards, the only Sun Devil to make a three-point shot. Edwards got the look, but he didn’t make it. He did get a steal off of the rebound when Princeton tried to save the ball. Off the turnover, the ball got to sophomore guard Remy Martin, who launched a three that also missed. Freshman guard Luguentz Dort got the offensive rebound, he put it back up, and it rolled right out.

Dort sat on the ground as the Tigers came together in jubilance. His reaction matched that of most fans. The loss disappointed everyone, but the Sun Devils deserved to lose on Saturday.

“How the game ended epitomizes kind of — just missing layups, in-and-out layups, probably three or four of those in the last two minutes alone,” Hurley said. “Things just didn’t go our way. (We) Were 2-of-15 from three, that’s not going to get it done either.

“If you’re not ready, I didn’t think I did a very good job of getting the team ready for the level of game this was going to be, how hard they played in the first half. They played harder than we did. I got to do a better job, I always struggle in games like this knowing the difficulty of getting your team ready, especially after the emotion of the game the other night.”

There were multiple stretches where ASU’s offense went on droughts including zero points in the game’s final two minutes. The Sun Devils didn’t break double digits until halfway through the first half. Arizona State made more free throws than field goals. The team committed twice as many fouls (17) than assists (8) created.

Martin led the team in points with 19, but he was 7-for-18 from the field and fell in love with his signature jumper maybe a tad too much. Romello White was the most effective player for the Sun Devils, he had a double-double at halftime. However, his 18 points and 11 rebounds were primarily in the first half after he sat picked up two quick fouls in the second half.

An offense of Martin hitting a few mid-range jumpers and White scooping up second-chance opportunities isn’t sustainable to win games. The slow starts have also hurt ASU, in the past four games, Hurley’s squad have trailed at the break by 14, 6, 8 and 7, they’ve gone 2-2 in those four games, which is probably the best outcome you could ask for.

Dort, Edwards, Cheatham, Kimani Lawrence and Taeshon Cherry combined to go 5-for-34 from the field. ASU’s depth has been talked about all season, but if everyone is struggling, does it matter?

The Sun Devils have flaws, they don’t have an elite scorer or shooter. They struggled to defend the perimeter, Princeton shot 32%, but they couldn’t find an answer for senior guard Devin Cannady. He came into Saturday’s game averaging over 20 points, and he finished with 21 points and five threes.

A week after what seemed like a program defining victory, ASU couldn’t enter Pac-12 play on a lower note. Hurley schedules difficult non-conference games for a reason, however, losing to lesser talented teams at home erases Kansas-type wins. And Hurley knows it more than anyone.

“There’s no positives to this at all, really, that I can think of at the moment,” he said. “Just the kind of non-conference that we had and the level of wins that we’ve had, this is a step back. But if we’re going to play like this then your resume doesn’t really mean a whole lot.”

Hurley and the squad will go back to the drawing board to figure things out, they’ll host the Rocky Mountain schools in Utah and Colorado on Thursday and Saturday to open Pac-12 play.