Given how streaky Arizona State (20-11, 11-9 Pac-12) has shot all year-long, there was a lingering feeling that their most crucial games down the road would come down to how well they made self-generated shots.
Sunday’s matchup against USC (22-9, 14-6 Pac-12) was as crucial as it gets. The Sun Devils could only obtain the No. 5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament with a win, but more importantly, a victory would keep them on the right side of most Bracketologists’ bubbles.
The Sun Devils shot just 29.2% from the field, and despite another last-minute comeback, dropped the regular-season finale 68-65 to the Trojans at the Galen Center. Only nine of ASU’s baskets came off assists.
The lid on the rim was apparent from the get-go when the Sun Devils generated just 20 first-half points on 22.6% (7-for-31) shooting.
USC did not run away with its lead whatsoever. The Trojans committed eight first-half turnovers to ASU’s six, and despite a late-surge at the end of the half, they weren’t sharpshooters either.
Going into the locker room, USC held a 29-20 lead. The Sun Devils were 3-for-6 from the free-throw line. Guard Desmond Cambridge Jr., the team’s leading scorer this season, collected just 3 points on 1-for-6 shooting. That three-pointer would be his only basket of the game, other than free throws. DJ Horne led the team with 8 points, but his plus-minus of -7 was the third-lowest on the team.
“A lot of teams would have no chance, but not us because of how we defend,” coach Bobby Hurley said. “We should feel fortunate down-nine based on our offense. I felt like the ball would go in (the hoop) a little more often, and we played a little bit better on that end of the floor in the second half.”
The second half did not look much better. ASU trailed by as many as 13 points, and battled most of the period to get under-10.
The turning point came when ASU trailed 61-53 with 3:30 remaining. ASU fouled USC guard Boogie Ellis in the process of shooting, but USC’s Reese Dixon-Waters was issued a technical foul for unnecessary contact on Cambridge Jr. after the whistle. Ellis hit one free-throw, Cambridge Jr. hit both.
The Sun Devils inched back over the final minutes, coming within a possession multiple times in the final minute.
With six seconds remaining, USC held a 67-65 lead with the ball. They hit one-of-two free-throws to extend the lead to 68-65. DJ Horne, ASU’s leading-scorer on the night with 20 points, drove the ball down the court, got a nice look from the right wing to tie, but it bounced off the front iron as time expired.
“I wish that shot would’ve went in but you can’t always have that magic. We had a lot of magic lately especially with the shot at Arizona but you learn from things like that. You go into the Pac-12 Tournament and hopefully we’ll get the opportunity to see them again.”
With the loss, ASU falls to the No. 6 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, and they will face Oregon State Wednesday night in Las Vegas.