After a seven-game win streak vaulted the Arizona State State Sun Devils (19-10, 10-6 Pac-12) to the top of the Pac-12 and solidified their chances at a NCAA tournament appearance, the Sun Devils have returned to their perilous state after Saturday’s 71-61 loss to the USC Trojans (21-9, 10-7) capped a 0-2 road trip for ASU.
The Sun Devils are now among a hodgepodge of team’s fighting for a coveted bye in the Pac-12 tournament, after recently appearing all but locked in to one of the conference’s top four spots.
“I told the team after that I was proud of both games and how we attacked both of these games,” coach Bobby Hurley said following Saturday’s defeat. “We were in a position to win, or within striking distance to win tonight, our offense put a little too much pressure on us. We didn’t get the contributions we needed at that end of the floor, but our intentions were good.”
ASU’s dismal shooting performance Saturday marks the second straight game the Sun Devils have struggled shooting the ball against the Trojans, as their 33% mark in Saturday’s loss only slightly trumps their 31% clip from their matchup with USC earlier this month.
Once again, junior guard Remy Martin was the only Sun Devil able to generate any sort of consistent offense, notching 22 points on 8-18 shooting including 2-8 from three. Beyond Martin though, the options were sparse Saturday as redshirt senior guard Rob Edwards (10 points) and redshirt junior forward Romello White (nine points) were the only Sun Devils to score over six points.
“That’s what we lacked today,” Edwards explained “Getting it side to side, getting it down low and everybody getting a touch, and then getting the best shot every possession.”
The Sun Devils were especially ineffective generating points near the basket, collecting just 22 points in the paint. Hurley admitted postgame that the length of USC’s frontcourt, notably standout freshman Onyeka Okongwu, gave ASU real issues while Edwards acknowledged that the team should’ve gotten one of their more consistent contributors involved offensively.
“We didn’t really look down there for Romello, he was upset,” Edwards revealed. “I tried to get it to him, but I don’t think we really moved the ball well today. I don’t think we did a good job of getting the ball into him so that he could get going.”
Despite his teammate’s struggles, Saturday concluded a successful homecoming for Martin, who hails from the Los Angeles area and played his high school ball at the now famed Sierra Canyon School. His 52 combined points against USC and UCLA was the junior’s second highest combined total for any two-game stretch in Pac-12 play, topped only by his 53 points earlier this season against the Oregon schools.
“He knew what was at stake, and how big the game was,” Hurley said of Martin. “It’s in his DNA to want to put his imprint on the game, take over the game, and help us win. I’m not disappointed with how he played overall, he’s a warrior, he competed, he gave us everything he got.”
Concerns of a possible malaise following Thursday’s devastating last-second loss to UCLA were realized early for ASU, as USC jumped out to a 14-2 lead in just over four minutes of action. The Sun Devils were able to claw their way back into the contest though, mostly on the backs of their stifling full-court press which forced the Trojans into a number of poor decisions while igniting the ASU offensive attack.
“We didn’t have a lot of juice, a lot of pop, early in the game so that was slightly disappointing,” Hurley described. “Once we did start ramping it up with our pressure, I thought the guys were entrenched in the game from that point on.”
ASU’s comeback efforts never fully came to fruition after a back and forth second half ended on a 14-8 USC run. The Trojans, who shot 50% from the field and 45% from beyond the arc Saturday, were simply too dominant on both ends of the floor for the Sun Devils to mount any sort of sustained success.
“Tonight, the first half we didn’t defend them great in terms of their percentages shooting the ball. They’re a very good team so give them credit,” Hurley said. “It put us behind and then we were chasing. I thought that we just couldn’t make enough shots in a key stage.”
ASU will conclude their regular season next week as they face off with the Washington Huskies and Washington State Cougars. After a brutal road trip displaced the Sun Devils atop the Pac-12 standings, Hurley and company are eager to return to the friendly confines of Desert Financial Arena.
“Now we have our last two at home,” Hurley said, “so that’s a nice thing.”