LAS VEGAS — Likely needing a win to cement their place in the NCAA Tournament, the Arizona State Sun Devils ventured up to T-Mobile Arena for what they hoped was a long stay. Thankfully, hotels on the Strip don’t make you pay extra for leaving early.
“Disappointing loss,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “You want to advance. You want to give yourself an opportunity to win a championship, and it just wasn’t the case today.”
A back-and-forth first half where neither team led by more than six points reached a head when free throws by freshman guard Remy Martin finished a three-point play to put the Sun Devils up 37-33 with 2:08 remaining.
ASU suddenly stiffened, failing to score the rest of the first half and allowing an 8-0 run by the Buffaloes to give Colorado a 41-37 halftime edge.
It was one of a few times throughout the afternoon when the Sun Devils couldn’t find the bottom of the basket. Martin attributed that to lapses in concentration from his squad, something that has seemingly plagued it all season.
“We play how we play and we’re not going to get away from that,” Martin said. “We’ve been pretty successful playing the way we were playing at first, it’s just that we have to lock in and focus a little bit more and those shots will go in.”
The program which boasted itself as ‘Guard U’ not two months ago saw its four top guards — senior guards Kodi Justice, Shannon Evans II and Holder and Martin — combine for 62 points on 42.5 percent shooting from the field and 60 percent from the line.
Good, but not good enough.
What made matters worse, is that no one else was making free throws, either.
The Sun Devils, a team that made 74.3 percent of its free throws entering the game, were once again victimized by the charity stripe.
After losing to Stanford because Justice couldn’t find the bottom of the basket, the Sun Devils made 12 of 21 free throws against the Buffaloes, with most of those makes coming with the game out of reach.
Even with those struggles to capitalize on free points, the Sun Devils were still in the game. That is, until the Buffaloes broke their backs.
ASU led 60-56 following a jumper by senior guard Tra Holder with 12:03 remaining. That would be its last field goal for nearly five minutes.
In that span, Colorado embarked on a 15-1 run while making six of seven shots over the next four minutes to seize a lead it would never give up.
On the strength of that run and the ensuing eight minutes it took the Buffaloes to put the Sun Devils away, Colorado upped its shooting percentages to 53.2 percent from the field, 61.9 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.
“When they’re shooting that well, they’re more dangerous,” Hurley said. “I don’t know the exact percentages that they shoot, but I don’t think it’s anything like what they shot today.”
Indeed, entering play Wednesday, the Buffaloes shot 43.8, 35.3 percent and 71.9 percents from those ranges. They also entered the game averaging 67.8 points per game in Pac-12 play, second worst in the conference.
“As a point guard, I take the blame for that,” Martin said. “Not getting my guys ready to be ready for battle.”
That’s been the case a lot in Pac-12 play and the Sun Devils have sputtered since the calendar turned to 2018, leaving their NCAA Tournament chances in doubt.
While Hurley rattled off his team’s resume postgame, the question still remains: do the recent struggled outweigh the great wins from non-conference play.
“I don’t really know how that really works,” Evans said. “But I hope so. I hope we did enough.”