The Bulls ran and ran viciously on Friday. Buffalo (32-3) controlled most of the contest in Tulsa, Oklahoma and ended Arizona State’s (23-11) season with a 91-74 First Round win in the NCAA Tournament.
The Sun Devils showed no sign of fatigue in the game’s first eight minutes after they traveled to Tulsa late Wednesday night after they defeated St. John’s in Dayton, Ohio. Sophomore guard Remy Martin had his signature quickness and looked full strength with four of ASU’s first six points.
ASU had a chance to be up by more than four when they were up 14-10, but the Bulls’ first 11 points came from offensive rebounds and second chance points.
After sophomore forward Kimani Lawrence made his second free throw to make it 14-10, ASU did itself no favors. Buffalo freshman forward Jeenathan Williams converted an and-one opportunity. The Sun Devils proceeded to get careless with the basketball and on multiple possessions coughed up the ball that led to easy Bull buckers.
Following the Lawrence free throw, the Bulls went on a 21-5 run for the next five minutes. For the team that entered fifth in scoring with 84.9 points per game, Buffalo certainly didn’t need ASU’s help with quick scores, but the Bulls took full advantage of the turnovers.
ASU finished with 11 turnovers that Buffalo turned into 13 points. The Bulls also out-rebounded the Sun Devils 42-26.
“We started the game well, we were there 14-14 and then they hit another gear,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “What we did to teams all year was out-rebound them, we were one of the best rebounding teams in the country this year. And they were just quicker to the ball than we were in the first half. Their pressures were disruptive, their guards get after you. But, it was more the second chance points, we were outscored by nine in that department in the first half.”
The Sun Devils shot 43% from the field, with the majority of their points created in the paint. That was ASU’s bread and butter to start the game, but they went away from it and begun shooting more threes. That didn’t help the Sun Devils catch up, instead they went 0-for-11 from deep to start until Lawrence hit one with 13:42 left in the second half. They’d finish 3-for-22 beyond the arc.
Buffalo shot nowhere near lights up from three, but converted 10 of their 27 attempts. MAC Player of the Year, Bulls’ senior guard CJ Massinburg only scored 18 points. It was more of a team effort from the Bulls with four players in double digits including senior forward Nick Perkins, who had 21 on 7-of-13 shooting.
The Sun Devils’ offensive struggles were their kryptonite once again. Zylan Cheatham and Romello White had a combined 34 points with efficiency from the field. Meanwhile, Martin, Luguentz Dort and Rob Edwards shot a total of 7-for-29 for only 24 points.
“I’m super proud of my guys and the effort and season they’ve had. The non-conference wins, the big time wins in the conference, conference [tournament] semifinals, 23 wins,” Hurley said. “They’ve taken another big step for Arizona State basketball. In the process, they’ve poured their heart and soul into our culture, which is going to filter through future Arizona State basketball teams.”
What’s next for the Sun Devils? They’re guaranteed to lose two of their main eight rotational players with the departures of Cheatham and forward De’Quon Lake. Dort’s status is still undetermined based on his decision of whether or no he decides to leave for the NBA.
“Obviously I ended on the not most ideal situation,” Cheatham said. “I left my heart out on the floor. I hope my guys realize the impact that I had on them as far as competing everyday, bringing it everyday, positive leader, being a positive person. Trying to be a role model and better myself. As far as the mark I’ve left on this program, I hope my fans and the city remember me in a positive light
ASU will welcome a pair of four-stars for the 2019-2020 campaign in junior college product Alonzo Verge and Jaelen House as reinforcements. The loss hurts now, but as Hurley mentioned it’s another step in the right direction for the program.