The energy inside the Staples Center was flat. It was after all, a college basketball game that tipped at 12 a.m. Eastern time between two West Coast teams.
However, the No. 20 Arizona State Sun Devils (7-1) came out pounding the accelerator in the late-night matchup. They punched the No. 6 Nevada Wolfpack (9-0) first, forced them into turnovers, and looked like they were truly among the nation’s best.
Holding a 12-point halftime lead, the Sun Devils appeared in good shape to pull the upset.
It wasn’t meant to be.
Nevada used a second half surge to remain unbeaten and win 72-66 in Los Angeles.
“I thought it was a really hard-fought battle between two winning programs,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “I loved how we started the game with our intensity on defense...Got off to the kind of start that you love to get off to in a big game like this, but Nevada, they are older. They have a lot of seniors on their team, and they have been a very good second half team...They found another gear.”
After a slow start to the night, Nevada senior guard Caleb Martin came on strong in the second half for the Wolf Pack. Martin finished the night with 15 points and two rebounds, shooting 6-for-18 from the field and only 1-for-10 from three-point land.
The one three that he hit was a pivotal moment in the game.
With 9:06 left and the score knotted at 48, Martin caught a chest pass from senior forward Tre’shawn Thurman at the top of the key and uncorked one of his uncharacteristic jumpers. It was nothing but net, and Martin was fired up.
The Wolf Pack had the lead for good.
Senior forward Jordan Caroline gave ASU fits in the second half as well. Caroline finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. He was a problem on the glass the entire game.
ASU sophomore guard Remy Martin, redshirt junior Rob Edwards, and junior forward Mickey Mitchell all came off the bench after missing most of the early season with injuries. Their impact however, left much to be desired.
The trio combined for only seven total points and five turnovers, and with sophomore forward Kimani Lawrence fouling out while senior forward Zylan Cheatham played with four fouls, it was too much for the Sun Devils to overcome.
ASU’s defense was stifling early on. The Devils forced 10 Nevada turnovers, and they held the Wolf Pack to only 1-for-11 from three-point range. The pressure was uncomfortable, leading to the slow start.
“I thought they (Arizona State) came out as aggressive as any team we’ve seen,” said Nevada head coach Eric Musselman. “I thought coach Hurley did a phenomenal job of getting them ready to play from the opening tip.”
Nevada looked puzzled by the defense that Arizona State threw at them. The Sun Devils limited senior twin guards Cody and Caleb Martin to four total first half points and only 1-for-9 from the field.
In the second half, the Wolf Pack turned the ball over only one time, and shot 4-for-9 from deep.
A key moment right before the break may have shifted momentum in Nevada’s favor. A baseball pass on the in-bounds play with seconds left in the half deflected off senior forward De’Quon Lake’s hand and into the grasp of Nevada junior guard Jazz Johnson’s possession.
Right before the buzzer, Johnson took two dribbles and heaved up a mid-range jumper. The ball went in, and Nevada was only down 12 at the break.
As a team with more upperclassmen than most, Nevada was ready for unique situations that arise during the course of the game. They used veteran leadership to come back and take the lead.
ASU was down by as many as 10 in the second half, but used a late surge to get the deficit down to one.
The comeback was led by freshman guard Luguentz Dort, who knocked down two clutch jumpers and free throws. Dort finished the night with 24 points and four rebounds, impressing in front of a national audience.
Arizona State now has a week to recover ahead of its next contest Dec. 15 against the Georgia Bulldogs. This will be ASU’s first true road contest of the season against first-year head coach Tom Crean’s squad.
Tonight’s loss broke ASU’s 20 consecutive wins against non-conference opponents.
Heading into the middle of December, the schedule won’t let up, and if ASU is going to accomplish its lofty goals this season, they will look to play more complete games moving forward.
“They made the plays. They got older guys that expect to win and are winners,” Hurley said of Nevada. “I thought it was a heck of a basketball game. It felt like an NCAA tournament type of game.”