Dayton, Ohio — Two inches.
Two inches separated ASU’s plane going from Detroit instead of Arizona. It dictated when three seniors’ careers would end and in the First Four on Wednesday in Dayton. The Sun Devils were a Shannon Evans’ 3 going two inches to the right away from beating Syracuse and advancing in the NCAA tournament.
Shannon Evans missed this shot that would’ve given ASU the lead and probably th win pic.twitter.com/w6C9oKSROP— Jordan Kaye (@jordankaye_23) March 15, 2018
But, it didn’t.
Evans’ shot clanked off the rim and the Orange corralled it to secure their 60-56 win over the Sun Devils. ASU’s once-dream season ended along with the careers of its three senior guards that turned ASU into “Guard U.”
The Sun Devils shouldn’t have needed that shot, however. With seven minutes to play, they were up seven and had corralled the momentum of a pro-Syracuse arena. In the drastically low-scoring affair, the lead seemed safe.
For reference, it took the Orange six minutes to put up seven points to start the second half. But, in just over two minutes, the Orange found something they liked — riding it to an 8-0 run and a late lead.
“We ran the same play four times in a row and scored all four times,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said of that run. “Just tried to open it up a little bit and you either throw it back to Oshae (Brissett), give him a shot or get it to the other side.”
The run spiraled the game into the see-sawing, back-and-forth contest that it had been throughout the entire night. The difference down the stretch was that the Devils missed 3s, like the Evans’ one, and that Syracuse connected on one — a Tyus Battle triple with 1:51 to play that gave Syracuse a lead that it would never relinquish.
ASU’s loss probably didn’t surprise most people, the matchup between an ASU team that hasn’t faired well against the zone throughout its entire Pac-12 slate, and a Syracuse team that runs maybe the best 2-3 zone in the country didn’t exactly favor the Devils.
“It was their length, athleticism, the way they take away the corners, kind of taking away the middle, it was difficult,” Sun Devil senior guard Kodi Justice said about Syracuse’s zone. “But I felt we attacked it as best we could.”
It took the Sun Devils a little bit to figure out Syracuse’s daunting 2-3 zone. Instead of penetrating it and trying to get the ball inside, ASU was settling for deep 3s. It’s first four shots all came from beyond the arc, and the Devils only connected on one.
But then, just under four minutes into the game, ASU brought Remy Martin in off the bench and the freshman wasn’t phased at all by Syracuse’s scheme. The quick and shifty Martin started dropping dimes and setting up easy buckets in the paint for his teammates.
“You find certain things that are open, that don’t look open, but when you try it, it opens up,” Martin said. “So, I just wanted to penetrate, find my guys.”
Despite finishing the first half scoreless, the freshman guard put up four assists and seven rebounds in 19 minutes of action. Instead of just trying to swing the ball around the perimeter, Martin was driving, letting the defense collapse onto him so he could dish it out.
Despite heading to the locker room down 30-28, the Devils came out from there like they were shot out of a cannon. In just a minute and a half, ASU had a 6 point lead. In its first three possessions of the second, ASU racked up eight points — five from Holder and three from Evans.
Almost 11 minutes later, Kodi Justice connected on his second three in almost a minute to give ASU its biggest lead of the game with a seven point advantage.
The loss ended ASU’s season and ended Holder, Justice and Evans’ college careers. In their final game, the trio combined to score 40 of the Devils’ 56 points — including burying clutch shot after clutch shot.
“They’ve elevated Arizona State basketball, the seniors have,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “They’ll have a special place in my heart. I’ve been through so many wars with these guys.”
But on Wednesday, it just wasn’t enough.