Poor Shooting, bad ball movement, and a painfully long scoreless drought were all defining factors of the Arizona State Men’s Basketball team’s (10-7, 1-3 Pac-12) out of sync offense in their 68-61 loss to the 20th ranked Colorado Buffaloes (14-3, 3-1).
The defeat is ASU’s second in a row, and third in four games. The team has lacked identity unlike the last few seasons, and has struggled as a result. Thursday’s game at Desert Financial Arena exposed this first hand.
The Buffaloes didn’t play particularly well either, but they were tough on defense and never relinquished their lead after building it up in the second half.
The start of the game was a low-scoring back and forth affair that saw the teams go to the break tied at 28 apiece. During the first half, ASU outplayed Colorado, but five three-pointers from the Buffaloes kept the score even.
Against one of the top defenses in the Pac-12, ASU struggled offensively. Head coach Bobby Hurley anticipated a low-scoring affair, but not all of ASU’s offensive shortcomings can be attributed to the stout Buffaloes defense.
Yes, Colorado head coach Tad Boyle made ASU work for every basket, but at times the Sun Devils simply couldn’t hit shots. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, ASU scored just six points, while Colorado jumped out to a 45-34 lead. The Sun Devils started the half shooting an abysmal 3-24 from the field. The deficit could have been worse, but the Buffaloes weren’t playing especially great on offense either.
It was during this time period that the game was lost for ASU. The Sun Devils best player, and leading scorer, Remy Martin couldn’t buy a bucket to save his life, and ASU grew sloppy. Bad turnovers and easy points given up in transition quickly gave CU the edge.
“We went empty and had some turnovers, missed some free throws, and were never able to gain any momentum,” Hurley said. We had a couple of our turnovers lead to easy baskets for them and they kind of broke it open. We were fighting uphill from there.”
This crucial stretch of play was a rude reminder of the team’s ineffectiveness when Martin struggles offensively. Big-man, Romello White played exceptionally well, but he couldn’t fill the scoring void alone.
The Sun Devils were unable to capitalize on offensive rebounds (11 in the second half) and the fact that they were turning the ball over, didn’t make things any easier.
Martin turned it back on in the last five minutes, but it was too little too late. He and White combined for 44 of the teams 61 points. Martin finished with a game-high 25 points but missed his first nine shots of the second half. He shouldered much of the blame after the game.
“I’m just more disappointed that I felt like I could have done more,” Martin said. “I could have got the team to a better start in the second half and I feel like I let the team down and that just doesn’t sit right with me.”
He also lamented the fact that he couldn’t help spark the offense, even when he was cold.
“I was shooting and I wasn’t making shots,” Martin said. “So for me to go find a different way to get our team more involved, and I just failed to do that.”
Defensively, the Sun Devils played well forcing 13 turnovers and holding the Buffaloes to just 21 made field goals. Open looks were hard to come by for Colorado, especially in the first half.
“I was happy with our defense top to bottom,” Hurley said. “I thought we held them to 28 in the first half, (which is) a pretty good situation. To start the second half no one could break away from each other. They went on a little spurt, but I think it was more our offense and less our defense that had to do with that.”
ASU was able to significantly disrupt CU’s best player, McKinley Wright. The junior play-making guard was held to 11 points on 4-15 shooting. The Sun Devils also won the battle down low. White was able to out-duel Evan Battey in the paint on both sides of the floor. However, Tyler Bey picked up the scoring load for CU and had 19 points with eight rebounds and five assists. 16 of his 19 points came in the second half, and his play on both sides of the floor was a game-changer for the Buffaloes.
CU also did a great job of getting to the line and outscored ASU by 12 points from the charity stripe. It wasn’t pretty, but they came away with the hard-fought road win.
ASU can build off their defensive effort, and Whites highly efficient double-double (19 points and 10 rebounds), but something clearly needs to change for this team, and quickly. They haven’t found their offensive identity, or rhythm yet and it shows. Now 1-3 in Pac-12 play, it’s safe to say that ASU is behind the eight ball this season.
Fortunately for ASU, Hurley still has some time to get this team on the same page, but hopes of another return to the NCAA tournament are fading fast in Tempe. ASU will look to refocus and build some much-needed momentum this Saturday in a home tilt with Utah.
”We have another game on Saturday. We’ve got to rally the troops and get ready for that,” Hurley said. “It’s been a tough stretch. We’ve had three of our last four against ranked opponents and we’d like to have had another win or two certainly, but gotta get ready to play on Saturday now.”