Arizona State (7-10, 4-7 Pac-12) was down four players for the fifth time this season, but an inspired first half threatened Pac-12 conference leading USC (18-3, 12-2) before the Trojans distanced themselves from an exhausted Sun Devil team to win 89-71 Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
In the team’s third game back from its COVID-19 hiatus, the Sun Devils played their best opening 20 minutes of basketball this season.
Senior guard Remy Martin might be making a late All-American push with his recent play, as he began the game with 15 points on 6-8 shooting. Martin also poured in three triples in the first half, continuing his recent hot streak from behind the arc.
After Jalen Graham had one of his finest performances of the season on Sunday in the win against Oregon State, the Trojan defense made slowing him down on the offensive end a point of emphasis.
While they were successful to some degree, even though Graham made it to 10 points, it was senior Kimani Lawrence who showed up to cover for his friend in the frontcourt.
Like Graham, Lawrence has seen his exposure in the Sun Devil offense increase with the injuries to front line players such as Marcus Bagley, Chris Osten, Josh Christopher and Tae’Shon Cherry.
As a result, Lawrence has recaptured the form from his impressive 2018-19 sophomore campaign in recent games, as he broke through for 12 points, six rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal on Wednesday.
“It felt really good, Lawrence said postgame. “It felt like we were just running the offense, everyone was playing freely, playing with confidence. That was something that we really needed to focus on, especially coming off Oregon State. We knew they were going to play some zone, so one of the big emphasis was just moving the ball, slinging it, touching it.”
With a halftime score of 46-44 in favor of USC, much of the credit should go to the combination of big guy Lawrence and small guy Martin.
Their play allowed the Sun Devils to keep pace with super big guy, who also plays with the athleticism of a small guy, in USC freshman forward Evan Mobley.
Unfortunately for ASU, Mobley went into the locker room with a mediocre (by his standards) first half of seven points and two rebounds.
He promptly emerged from the locker room as the future top-five NBA draft pick he is, and proceeded to tag-team with his brother, Isaiah Mobley, to overwhelm the Devils in every aspect of the game.
By the time the dust settled, the Mobley’s had accounted for 26 second-half points, where they shot an arcade-style 13-16 from the field.
The impressive play inside from the brothers released an avalanche of kickout three-pointers from Trojan role players like Drew Peterson, Tahj Eaddy, Max Agbonkpolo, and Ethan Anderson.
On a night that ASU needed as much production as they could get from guys not named Martin, it was USC who saw their guys not named Mobley step up to help the team go 11-20 from three-point range.
“I told the coaching staff, ‘Any time you have a player of Mobley’s caliber, everyone’s shot attempts get better and better,’” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “When you have a guy like that or even Isaiah Mobley, that they can throw the ball into and they have to demand the attention that we needed to give them, it’s going to improve the quality of the shots for Peterson and Eaddy and Anderson. All these guys that they have that are making shots.”
Martin was still hot from the field in the second half, and Wednesday night became his third 30-point game of the season. But as the minutes ran up for the overworked Sun Devil lineup, their exhaustion became apparent.
If this was 2K, by the end of Wednesday night any player in a black jersey would have had an empty Gatorade cup hovering around their feet. Consequently, the Sun Devils finished the night with no field goals in the last 6:15.
The Trojans are in the midst of one of their best seasons in program history, and the positive side of the coin is that ASU was able to hang right with them through 20 minutes.
Now, with several players set to return in coming days, Hurley’s group will look to build on their momentum from tonight at full-strength.
The Sun Devils will travel to Westwood to face UCLA on Saturday night at 8 pm, MST. That game will air on ESPN2.