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Shorthanded Sun Devils fight but can’t overcome UCLA in overtime

Arizona State guard Alonzo Verge Jr., middle, tries to get off a shot as UCLA guard Tyger Campbell, right, defends and guard Jules Bernard (1) watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Playing for the first time in nearly a month and missing four players, including senior leader Remy Martin, the Arizona State Sun Devils took the game against UCLA on Thursday night to overtime before eventually falling 81-75.

Along with Martin, who missed the game to attend his grandfather’s funeral, Taeshon Cherry and Jaelen House were both unavailable “due to non-disciplinary issues” while Jalen Graham was also out due to mononucleosis, according to CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

With the reduced roster, four Sun Devils logged 40 minutes on the night. With so much time on the court, Arizona State (4-4; 1-1 Pac-12) just couldn’t keep up with UCLA in overtime. The Bruins (8-2; 4-0 Pac-12) made four of six field goals in the extra five minutes, including making both from beyond the arc.

UCLA took control of the overtime period with 3:15 remaining when the Bruins got the offensive rebound after Cody Riley missed his second free throw opportunity, making the first. The ball was tossed out to David Singleton, who drained a three-pointer to put the Bruins up by six, which they held onto for the remainder of the extra time.

Singleton and Riley were the key players for the Bruins, as Riley led the team with 22 points and Singleton had 14. The two combined to score 14 of the Bruins’ 16 points in overtime.

“Just proud of my team’s effort, thought we battled extremely hard,” Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game. “To be shorthanded … to compete the way we did, I thought was very honorable despite all the adversity that we were facing.”

The fact Arizona State was able to push this game to overtime was a credit to the team after the way things started.

Arizona State last played on Dec. 16 after the game against Incarnate Word was canceled, the game against Utah was postponed due to a coronavirus case within the Utes program and the road trip contests against Washington State and Washington were postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Sun Devils program.

The team showed the negative effects of the layoff early, but fought and entered the locker room up 30-28.

The Sun Devils couldn’t break the Bruins’ interior defense early on as Arizona State was held without a two-point basket for the first 15 minutes of the game. Arizona State was 0-14 from within the arc as UCLA forced the Sun Devils to get their points at the free-throw line or from deep.

Yet the Sun Devils were able to keep up with the Bruins, making eight of nine from the charity stripe in the first half and draining four 3-pointers.

Freshman Josh Christopher gave Arizona State their first 2-point basket in style with a breakaway dunk five minutes before halftime. The dunk also capped an 8-0 Sun Devil run that tied the game at 20 apiece, fueled by three turnovers on defense. Having finally got that coveted two-pointer, Arizona State ended the half with five straight layups.

Being able to score from within the arc was key for Arizona State to hang around against UCLA, as relying on the long ball for the remainder of the game wouldn’t have turned out well. Arizona State made only six of 26 chances from beyond the arc for the game, two of those coming within the first five minutes of the game.

The Bruins and Sun Devils remained close in the second half as Arizona State continued to rely on getting the ball inside and using short-range jumpers. Continuing the trend that started at the end of the first half, 15 straight Arizona State field goals were two-pointers before finally making another three with 7:16 left in the second half.

Getting closer to the basket resulted in a sharp spike in Arizona State’s shooting percentage, ending the second half with a 48.3 field goal percentage after shooting only 29% in the first half. The Bruins, however, kept up with Arizona State, shooting 45.3% from the field in the second half.

Missing Martin, Alonzo Verge Jr. was heavily relied upon and he delivered. The senior scored 16 second-half points, including making both crucial free throws with five seconds left to send the game into overtime. Verge Jr. finished the night with 25 points and seven rebounds.

Christopher also had a big night, his best so far as a Sun Devil, earning a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Hurley after the game wasn’t sure when the four players who missed Thursday night’s game would be back, saying they are day-to-day for the time being.

Arizona State returns to the court on Saturday against USC for a 5 p.m. tip at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe.

Listen to the action live on ESPN 620 AM.

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