One day after a rock-fight style victory to extend the season against Washington State, Arizona State opened its PAC-12 Tournament quarterfinal matchup by playing an inspired first 13 minutes with No. 1 seeded Oregon early.
However, the Sun Devils could not keep pace with the Ducks in the second half, falling 91-73 to bring this rollercoaster of a season finally back into the station.
Just past the midway point of the first half of play at T-Mobile Arena, the Sun Devils were trading body blows with the regular season conference champions. Then, the Ducks ran off on a 10-0 run to lead the game 29-19 and crack it open.
Oregon would never look back after that. This team, which very well could be a force in the NCAA Tournament in a week, was led on Thursday by strong performances from LJ Figueroa, Will Richardson, and Eugene Omoruyi, who all scored in double-figures.
Chris Duarte, who scored 18 against the Sun Devils back on Feb. 11, was not much of a factor in Thursday’s game, as he finished with six points.
However, in this game, one player struggling didn’t really dent the Oregon armor, especially when the Ducks morphed into 2013 Florida Gulf Coast in the second half.
A Sun Devil victory certainly would have been surprising to outsiders, who would have looked at a below .500 record and labeled ASU the Cinderellas of the Pac-12.
Not that those comparisons are not inaccurate, but as many within the Sun Devil community know, this program that has been coached by Bobby Hurley for six seasons has sort of made its name off of upset victories.
Three players have been with Hurley for nearly every one of the memorable upsets, including Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge Jr., and Kimani Lawrence.
Martin, the senior guard who played for ASU in both wins over Kansas in 2017 and 2018, rebounded from three straight subpar games to score 16 for the Sun Devils.
Martin also recaptured his three-point form, as he went 3-for-8 from behind the arc. He also added four rebounds and five assists.
This was very likely the last game the endearing point guard will play in a Sun Devil uniform. He entered Tempe as the 85th-ranked player in the class of 2017.
If he doesn’t choose to come back next season, which he is eligible to do, he will leave Tempe as one of the best players in program history, sixth on the all-time scoring list and second in assists.
“He’s a great kid, great kid,” Hurley said. “Outstanding family. Loyal to the program. Ultimate competitor. Friends. A guy that has humility, that competes, that makes big plays, that embodies my personality for playmaking and playing with passion and loving the game. He loves to play the game. It’s tough. It’s a tough moment.”
The other Sun Devil senior guard, Verge, was playing some of the best basketball of his Sun Devil career after an electric performance Wednesday against Washington State.
Determined to extend the season, Verge came out firing again on Thursday, attempting a game-high 25 shots.
High volume shooting isn’t a bad thing when a player is feeling their game like Verge is, and he finished with a game-high 28 points. He also added eight rebounds and four assists.
Last year’s Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year, Verge became a starter this season. It wasn’t always smooth sailing like many expected it would be, considering the scoring firepower of the Sun Devil backcourt, but as the season progressed, both Martin and Verge became noticeably more comfortable playing with each other, and it reflected in the stat sheet.
Lawrence was another highly sought after recruit when he committed to ASU in 2017. A career that was marked with so much promise became defined by adversity as Lawrence battled through injuries throughout his college career.
On Thursday, injuries got to Lawrence again, as the forward was sidelined with a hamstring injury midway through the second half and he would not return.
“Well, it was a tough scene in the locker room as it generally is when guys invest and put their heart and soul into this,” Hurley said. “And certainly, the core of the group that was on the floor a lot today has done that all year against a lot of adverse conditions. So very emotional in the locker room, saying goodbye to a couple of seniors that have meant so much to me. Remy Martin, it feels like yesterday he was stealing the ball versus Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas, and laying it in and I won’t have an opportunity to coach him again. So that was tough, the reality of that.
“Alonzo Verge (Jr.) had some outstanding things to say for some of the younger players in the program. He had tremendous words. So it was a very good moment. It’s been a tough year. It’s been, just a lot of things thrown at us all year, and I just have tremendous respect for the entire group, that we stayed together, that these kids have gone through all the procedures they go through every day, the protocols, masks all the time, testing. And they have, and we have gotten through it. We got through the season. It’s always sad when it ends, but when there are people that you have such a bond with and a connection, it makes it a little more difficult to know that it’s over.”
Oregon entered Thursday’s game as one of the hottest teams in the country.
After back-to-back losses to Oregon State and Washington State in late January and early February, the Ducks would only lose one more game in the regular season. They were simply too strong, and were too good for the depleted Sun Devils on Thursday.
Many expected these two teams to face off in this tournament during preseason discourse. The matchup occurred far earlier than the anticipated semifinal or final matchup.
Oregon will play the winner of UCLA and Oregon State, and ASU will travel back to Tempe with an eye on next season.