The Arizona State Sun Devils (4-3) returned home Wednesday night to face the UTEP Miners (3-2) in the last non-conference game of the season for the Sun Devils.
In keeping with the theme of the last few games, the Sun Devils struggled to make shots, get rebounds and play solid perimeter defense, falling to the Miners 76-63.
The top story of the night was Arizona State’s poor 3-point shooting. Correction: historically poor 3-point shooting.
The Devils shot 6 percent from behind the arc, finishing the game with only one 3-point field goal made for the first time in the Bobby Hurley era. In total, the Devils went 1-18, the worst number in Pac-12 play since Cal shot 0-18 against ASU in 2018.
UTEP finished with three players in double-figures, led by senior forward Bryson Williams, who posted 22 points. The Sun Devils were led by Josh Christopher’s 24 points.
Remy Martin, the hero on Sunday against Grand Canyon University, visibly struggled with his shot.
He finished with nine points and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. The senior guard scored the last bucket of the night for ASU, which came on a rare fast break layup with 5:34 remaining. It was that kind of night for the Devils.
Arizona State started the game shooting moderately well. Christopher made several nice plays and once again gave fans a glimpse of the offensive weapon he can be.
His hustle on the defensive end was noteworthy as well, as the freshman was an active defender on every possession. He also made 10 field goals while the rest of the team made 14 combined.
“I thought he did more than just make some shots. He dove on the floor a couple of times and really mixed it up well on defense,” Hurley said. “He was really connected to the game. That number was very small in terms of who was connected to the game. I know making some shots helps and scoring the ball helps but we got to get more guys playing up to the level of intensity that he demonstrated in this game.”
The Devils went into the halftime break with a 41-33 lead, and despite a few turnovers and a 1-7 number from 3-point land, it seemed much more likely that ASU would cut its mistakes down and connect on more shots in the second half after some adjustments from Hurley.
Instead, the Miners exited the locker room and simply blitzed ASU for 20 minutes. UTEP shot 50 percent from the floor and outscored the Devils by 21 points in the second half.
ASU struggled mightily again to secure rebounds on the defensive end and tossed up enough bricks from behind the arc to build a home for the Three Little Pigs.
The Sun Devils lost the rebound advantage to UTEP by 20. The team also surrendered nine offensive boards to the Miners along with five second-chance points.
It’s unlikely that ASU shoots 1-18 on threes all season long, but the team’s rebounding issues appear to get worse with each passing game.
The tallest player on the court tonight for UTEP was 6-foot-9 forward Tydus Verhoeven. This was supposed to be the game where ASU narrowed the gap to its opponents on the boards. Instead, they were routinely boxed out and outworked down low.
“It’s going to be key to get Marcus (Bagley) back in the fold. Chris Osten is going to get a lot more minutes because he battles and fights and competes and he’s got a heart,” said Hurley on the team’s rebounding efforts. “He plays with a lot of heart, a lot of courage. You’re going to see more of him and hopefully, that’ll help.
“There are some different lineups that we can explore with Josh and Marcus and Chris out there and just going a little bigger. We had to do a lot of small-ball today just because we were going by and trying to generate some points. Just knowing that they were dominating us on our front court through most of that second half and certainly right out of the gate in the second half.”
It won’t get any easier from here for ASU. Reminder: The Devils will face seven-footer Branden Carlson from Utah in their next game. Evan Moseley from USC and N’Faly Dante from Oregon loom on the schedule as well.
There are still several positives to look forward to in conference play for ASU. The team will get Marvin Bagley back from a calf injury in the next few games and has a roster stocked full with guys that can get buckets, despite the poor performance on Wednesday.
The next game for the Sun Devils is a home contest against the Utah Utes on Tuesday, December 22.