Just four days after coming back and beating Arizona in the final 10 seconds of the game, the Arizona State Sun Devils (13-8, 3-4 Pac-12) were back in a familiar spot but came up just short in a 67-65 loss against Washington State Cougars (13-9, 4-5) in Pullman on Wednesday.
The Cougars haven’t lost at home this season and outplayed a sloppy Sun Devils team for much of the game. Much like last week, ASU was able to rally in the second half, but this time was unable to seal the deal.
CJ Elleby missed the front end of two 1-and-1’s in the last two minutes which coincided with the back end of an 11-0 ASU run. Jalen Graham scored five straight and gave the Sun Devils a one-point lead after sinking 1-2 free throws with 18 seconds left. Elleby responded by nailing a contested 3-pointer with under five seconds remaining giving WSU a two-point lead. Fittingly for the sloppy Sun Devils, the game ended with a turnover, off a bad pass from Jaelen House, who was trying to push the ball for one last shot.
ASU didn’t deserve to win, but it was heartbreak nonetheless. Throughout their entire comeback, it always felt like the Sun Devils would find a way to pull it off like did on Saturday.
Turnovers, missed free throws and 27 points from WSU’s CJ Elleby insured that the comeback wouldn’t be enough. The most blatant of those factors was the turnovers.
ASU couldn’t hold onto the ball to save its life. In the first half alone the Sun Devils turned the ball over 15 times. That’s not to take away from the Cougars defense, but many of ASU’s turnovers came off errant passes, telegraphed passes and sloppy ball handling.
There were instances when Hurley subbed players off four players at a time in an effort to get a lineup onto the floor that could take care of the ball.
The 21 total turnovers were the third most by an ASU team during the Bobby Hurley era and the most this season.
They were the primary reason reason ASU went into the half trailing by six and how WSU build an early 15-point lead in the early goings of the second half.
Free throws were just as bad for ASU, especially down the stretch. The Sun Devils shot just 50 percent (5-10) from the charity stripe in the second half. In a two-point loss, those five misses will haunt Hurley and his squad.
On the other end of the court, Elleby was putting on a clinic. The guard added 12 rebounds and three assists to his 27 points and hit back-to-back clutch shots in the last minute of the game. He was the best player on the floor and looked eager to prove it all night long.
ASU couldn’t match his firepower, after having a poor shooting night from the outside.
The Sun Devils shot just 26.3 percent (5-19) from three for the game, including 1-8 in the second half. ASU has shown the ability to make outside shots, but they just didn’t have that touch in this one, despite some open looks.
One of the players who’s typically making those outside shots is Remy Martin. He is ASU’s point guard, leader and best player. He started the game off well but had an uncharacteristically poor second half going just 1-8 from the field and 0-3 from three during the period. The junior finished with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and five turnovers.
Martin’s five turnovers matched a season-high.
There were some stretches of good, and ASU’s play in the second half as a whole was largely better than their display in the first.
The Sun Devils were able to engineer their comeback by taking good inside looks and playing sound but aggressive defense. Much like WSU did in the first period, ASU went after the ball and forced nine second-half turnovers. They erased the Cougars 15-point lead in a matter of minutes and did so without taking a single jump shot. Romello White, Jalen Graham and Alonzo Verge were all catalysts during this rally. ASU used an 18-3 run to tie the game at 51 apiece with just over 10 and a half minutes to go.
From there, WSU regained their lead but Sun Devils stayed within striking distance and eventually took a one-point lead in the last twenty seconds thanks to some great minutes off the bench from the true-freshman, Graham.
You know how the rest of that story goes.
ASU had four players score in double figures and Romello White picked up another double-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. He was excellent, but it was Graham who stole the spotlight.
In limited minutes off the bench, Graham turned in his third consecutive solid performance. The true freshman scored nine points on 4-5 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. His best moments have all come in crunch time the last two games, and it’s likely that he has forced his way into a greater role moving forward.
Despite the close final score, it was a largely frustrating game for ASU fans to watch. It perfectly encapsulated just how inconsistent ASU can be, and how difficult it is for them to win when Martin isn’t playing at his best. The loss hurts, plain and simple. The Sun Devils aren’t out of Pac-12 contention yet, but have fallen into 9th place and are below .500 in conference play. It’s games like Wednesday’s that they absolutely need to win.