Arizona State (6-9, 3-6 Pac-12) returned shorthanded after yet another COVID-19 hiatus to host the Oregon Ducks (11-4, 6-3) Thursday night at Desert Financial Arena, and the lack of roster depth was clear in a 75-64 loss.
Defense reigned supreme in a first half that saw neither the Ducks or the Sun Devils eclipse 40 percent from the field, highlighted by this ridiculously athletic block by freshman guard Josh Christopher.
On a night when he was missing a large chunk of his frontcourt due to lingering COVID-19 issues within the team, Sun Devil head coach Bobby Hurley looked as far down the bench as he has in a while and found forward John Olmsted.
With 11:48 left in the first half, the sophomore broke through for his first career points on a two-handed dunk which elicited an eruption of approval from the Sun Devil bench.
Moments later, a Sun Devil team sparked by the Christopher block and Olmsted dunk knotted the game up at 19-19 following an Alonzo Verge three-pointer from the left wing.
Despite the slow start, ASU appeared to have knocked the rust off from their virus break.
That’s when rust showed up. The Sun Devils went ice cold from the field as a 6:42 long scoring drought completely beached the team’s early first half momentum.
Meanwhile, Oregon found its stride and took off on an 11-0 run spearheaded by senior guard Chris Duarte knocking down three of his four first half three-pointers in just over a three-minute span.
Duarte would finish the night tied for a team-high 18 points with Ducks forward Eugene Omoruyi.
Down 30-19, and in desperate need of an answer to the Ducks run, the Sun Devil’s senior guard Remy Martin went on a personal 5-0 run to slice the lead back to two possessions.
Martin, who has struggled offensively at times during this roller coaster of a season, was spectacular on Thursday. He finished the contest with a game-high 30 points, including going eight of nine from the free-throw line.
As soon as the Sun Devils began to draw close again, Oregon’s LJ Figueroa knocked down a deep three, which is not bad for a guy that has shot 23 percent from that range on the year.
The senior guard from Massachusetts put up a season-high 16 points and the teams went into the locker room with a halftime score of 35-28.
Entering the second half, the Sun Devils needed a fast start to claw their way back into the game. Instead, the Ducks burst out to a 14-5 run as the lead swelled to 16, the largest of the night for Oregon.
The Ducks’ lead would hover around that 12-16 range until another Figueroa three-pointer, which pushed the lead to 17, appeared to seal the game.
But a clearly overmatched and undersized Sun Devil team scrapped their way to a quick 7-0 run on the back of Martin’s quintessential playmaking abilities, and that patented midair kick out pass to a spot up shooter in the corner.
Ultimately, the Ducks got things back under control as Eugene Omoruyi scored and repeated with easy buckets in the paint, including one on a severe mismatch against Jalen House, to smother any potential ASU comeback.
This has been a frustrating season for the Sun Devils, as the combination of COVID-19 and injuries have kept the team from getting a fair shot at what could have been.
Of course, one could argue that in some way, shape, or form, every team in NCAA college basketball has had to deal with some form of adversity during this unprecedented season.
The teams who have adapted the best are at the top of their respective conferences, and ASU likely would have struggled in a normal season due to their lack of size and all-too-frequent scoring droughts.
The Sun Devils will host the Oregon State Beavers this Sunday, looking to avenge their last-second loss to OSU on Jan. 16. Tipoff is at 5 p.m. MST.