“What is going on? What are we not doing?”
An exasperated Romello White stood outside ASU’s locker room following the team’s demoralizing 68-61 loss to the No. 20 Colorado Buffaloes, wondering out loud why this team’s performance was so drastically different than the ones he saw every day in practice.
He knew the team’s 34% shooting including 26% from three was not indicative of the talent of his teammates. He truly believed that his fellow Sun Devils were more skilled than the 6-35 shooting performance by every player not named White or Remy Martin. He was confident that he and his teammates could rack up more than just the 10 assists they compiled across the entirety of Thursday’s contest.
And yet, he was left without answers, instead forced to deal with the stark realities of the team’s fifth loss in their last seven contests and a 1-3 start to their conference schedule.
“It’s real frustrating,” a perplexed White, who finished with 19 points on 9-12 shooting to go along with a game-high 10 rebounds, explained. “Practice is totally different, practice we’re moving the ball, driving and kicking it too shooters, making shots. That’s why we keep having hope, why we can’t give up hope, because we’re doing it in practice.”
For a team that had supposedly found its offensive groove following an encouraging split against Oregon and Oregon State, the team’s 34% shooting Thursday was an especially painful punch in the gut. The dismal figure represented ASU’s second lowest percentage of the season, trumped only by their horrific 31% performance just a few weeks ago against Arizona. Add in the team’s 14 turnovers, their fifth highest total of the season and tied for their highest total so far in Pac-12 play, and it’s clear that any offensive momentum ASU possessed was lost Thursday night.
“I think we could’ve been in better shape in the game if we took care of the ball better,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “When you have that many guards on the floor like we do at times, you would hope that that wouldn’t be a major issue, but it was tonight.”
One of those guards was Martin, who finished Thursday’s contest with a game-high 25 points, albeit needing 23 shots to get it. He and White represented ASU’s only sources of consistent offense, as the duo combined to score 44 of the team’s 61 points. And yet a dejected Martin piled the blame on himself following the game, lamenting what he perceived as poor play in the game’s final period.
“The second half I didn’t play like I should have. I was missing shots, I was turning the ball over and that was a good opportunity for us to get back up, and I didn’t do that for my guys tonight,” Martin said. “I feel like I let the team down and that just doesn’t sit right with me.”
While Martin’s four turnovers did lead all Sun Devils, to place the brunt of blame on his shoulders would be disingenuous. Martin’s scoring often kept ASU in the game, as fellow guards Rob Edwards, Alonzo Verge Jr. and Jaelen House combined to score a mere 15 points while only connecting on 19% of their attempts. To add insult to injury, the trio finished with more turnovers, six, than made field goals, five.
“You have to trust what you have and the guys that are open to make them,” Hurley said of the team’s shooting performance. “I thought we had some good shots from guys that we’d like to shoot, (Colorado) just made more plays.”
The poor shooting is even more frustrating when comparing the two halves. In the first, ASU connected on 40% of their shots as the team primarily focused on working the ball inside to White. The team found success funneling their offense through the junior forward, prioritizing high-quality looks over rushed attempts early in the shot clock.
Yet in the second half, the team took a fundamentally different approach, looking to make up their sudden deficit with a reliance on the outside shot. Of the team’s 23 three-point attempts, 19 came in the second half as ASU only connected on four such attempts in the period.
“Usually when something’s going, we keep going to it,” White said of the team’s confusing disparity between halves. “But we went away from (getting the ball down low) and started doing stuff we usually don’t do, like come down and take quick shots, or not move the ball, or one pass and then go take a shot.”
As the team works to eliminate the poor shots plaguing their offensive rhythm, Hurley preached positivity and camaraderie. He knows the challenges that lie ahead for ASU, beginning with a matchup Saturday against an Utah team desperate for a win, and is fully aware of the demoralizing effect of losses like Thursday’s if not handled properly. As he works to keep morale high, Hurley is quick to stress the short-lived memory his team must possess.
“We can’t put too much stock into this and over-dwell on it,” Hurley said. “We have another game on Saturday, we’ve got to rally the troops and get ready for that. It’s been a tough stretch, we’ve had three of our last four against ranked opponents. We’d like to have had another win or two certainly, but we’ve got to get ready to play on Saturday now.”