Zylan Cheatham left the T-Mobile Arena court with his face hidden beneath his jersey. His emotion appeared as he sat in his locker. He knew Arizona State (22-10) had the chance to play Washington in Saturday’s Pac-12 Championship game. Instead, it’ll be the Oregon Ducks (22-12) playing for their NCAA tournament hopes against the Huskies.
Did Cheatham feel the Ducks stole the 79-75 victory?
“A hundred percent,” he said.
The Sun Devils, led by their senior leader in Cheatham, had a mission in Las Vegas. Win the whole thing. But, after a tension filled contest, they’re headed back to Tempe without the hardware.
“To lose in overtime, in that fashion is devastating,” Cheatham said. “Like I said, we planned on winning this whole tournament, so, it’s just devastating.”
The contest possessed only two lead changes and a single tie. The Ducks fired out of the gate, with the knowledge they were playing for their season, motivation flowed thorough them. However, the Sun Devils stormed back, they commanded the majority of the second half. Oregon saw their at one-point 12-point lead vanish and reappear as a nine-point deficit.
The Ducks weren’t dead in the water after the 23-point swing. Payton Pritchard turned a seven-point ASU advantage to three in under 30 seconds in the final four and half minutes of regulation. Baskets traded until Ehab Amin was left alone for the game-tying basket, the only time the game was tied rather than the opening tip.
Into overtime, the Sun Devils matched their play from the early first half that put themselves behind the eight-ball. Oregon opened the period on a 9-1 run, a stretch of opportunity presented to the Ducks after Cheatham fouled out of the game with 3:57 left in the game.
“I think the main thing that went wrong in overtime, to be honest, was losing Z [Zylan Cheatham], getting his fifth foul with four minutes to go,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “He’s such a big part of us winning games. It’s hard to overcome that as defense and everything he does to help us win.”
Cheatham’s emotion corresponded with ASU’s play. The bad, that included the Sun Devils not having a bucket until four minutes into the game. And the good, where Cheatham’s layup after being blocked by Kenny Wooten initially added to ASU’s 18-1 run that put them on top.
When things went well for the Sun Devils, they dropped buckets and buckets. When things when poorly, it had to do with turnovers. Oregon outscored ASU, 25-10, in the points off of turnovers category.
“Defensively we got some stops there and we ended up out-rebounding them by one, which I thought was important,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. “But the difference in the game was points off turnovers. 25-10. Our activity, you know, was really good. And that was the difference in the game.”
Cheatham suggested the same idea from the different persecutive:
“It definitely factored in,” said Cheatham about the points off of turnovers Oregon got. “Any team that’s able to get out in transition, get some easy layups, stuff like that builds momentum, builds confidence. That’s something we got to do better job with, taking care of the ball, not having as many live-ball turnovers.”
The officiating can be questioned from each side, whistles blew time-after-time. Although, another reason that Cheatham believes the conference tournament final appearance was stolen from the Sun Devils happened at the end of regulation.
Guard Remy Martin missed a potential game-winner from mid-range, Luguentz Dort grabbed an offensive rebound. That handed ASU with the final shot in a 67-67 locked up contest. The original plan for the final possession never occurred, thus why Rob Edwards took a deep three that air balled.
What occurred in-between the offensive board and Edwards’ missed final shot fits into Cheatham’s stolen game equation.
“Yeah, well, we got the offensive rebound. We were -- there was a bit of a scramble. I know that Zylan attempted to call a timeout,” Hurley said. “The coaches can’t call a timeout in that situation. Apparently the ref did not see him call a timeout. At that point the clock was winding down, and Rob just tried to make the best of what he could do with it.”
“I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, I’m looking at, trying to get anyone’s attention, trying to get any refs attention,” Cheatham described. “I’m a pretty vocal guy, my voice is pretty loud when I yell. So, in my opinion there’s really no way someone didn’t hear me call a timeout.”
The final reset never happened for the Sun Devils. A lot of things didn’t go their way, in the end, the Ducks will play another game with their season on the line. ASU will restart and wait for Selection Sunday. A day that their coach is very confident his team will be put amongst the field of 68.
“Again, you look at our résumé, we have 11 quad 1 and 2 wins. We’re 11- 6 versus those two quads,” Hurley said. “And there aren’t almost any teams that are in the 8, 9, 10, 11 line that can say that. And the non-conference wins are important. We put ourselves -- we stuck our neck out and put it on the line to play Kansas and Mississippi State and Utah State teams that are having very successful season.
“And then we went in our league and won 12 games in a Power Conference and finished second. So when you put that whole package together, when the Committee looks at our season, our entire season, I think we’ll be rewarded for being great in the non-conference, beating the No. 1 team in the country at one point during the season, and then having a very strong effort in the league. And then to lose in overtime like this and really playing at a high level, I think that that shows that we’re playing very well at the right time of the year.”