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Sun Devils MBB recovers from tough start but can’t finish in loss to USC

Southern California guard Isaiah White (5) tries to control the ball as Arizona State guard Josh Christopher (13) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Tempe, Ariz. USC won 73-64. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State Sun Devils fought back after a rough start against the USC Trojans but couldn’t keep up in the final minutes, falling 73-64 on Saturday evening in Tempe.

Arizona State (4-5; 1-2 Pac-12) was shorthanded for the second straight game with four key players, including senior guard Remy Martin, ruled out.

Martin was in coronavirus protocol after missing the previous game to attend his grandfather’s funeral, junior forward Taeshon Cherry and sophomore guard Jaelen House were out for non-disciplinary reasons and sophomore big Jalen Graham missed the game due to mononucleosis.

The Sun Devils were also back on the court less than 48 hours after an overtime loss to UCLA where four players logged 40 minutes due to the shorthanded bench.

Missing players and the short turnaround provided quite a few challenges for the game against USC (8-2; 3-1 Pac-12) on Saturday.

After freshman Josh Christopher made his first two shots to open the game, Arizona State fell into a stretch with struggles on both ends of the floor. Head coach Bobby Hurley didn’t mince his words after the game.

‘We had a stretch of 12 minutes with some of the worst that I’ve seen on both ends of the court for us,” he said, adding the slow start may be due to the short turnaround.

“We just didn’t have the appropriate energy during that period of time.”

Arizona State couldn’t get the top off the basket, with a shooting percentage that hovered in the mid-20s for most of the first half while also failing to take advantage of opportunities at the free throw line.

The Sun Devils only made two of eight free-throw chances, while the Trojans made 12 of 15 from the charity stripe as Arizona State found themselves in foul trouble.

A 21-9 run by USC had Arizona State down by a game-high 18 points.

Then the tide shifted when senior guard Holland Woods kickstarted the Sun Devil offense.

Arizona State went on a 14-0 run over the final two minutes of the half, 11 of the points coming from Woods.

He made two 3-pointers in that time, including one that turned into a four-point play on a foul.

“(Woods) really stepped up and refused to let the slide continue and made a lot of big plays and gave us hope and gave us a chance,” Hurley said.

Arizona State in those two minutes increased the team shooting percentage from 25% to 36.4% and miraculously entered the locker room trailing only 36-32.

“I didn’t want to let the game get away so I just did what I could and my teammates helped me defensively,” said Woods, who ended the game with a team-high 18 points.

The Sun Devils kept up with USC for most of the second half and took the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game when Marcus Bagley made both of his free throws with 8:52 remaining.

Arizona State’s improvement at the charity stripe was a big part of the second-half resurgence for the team, making 13 of 16 chances.

The size of the USC players started to get to the Sun Devils as the game went on, however.

USC, ranked No. 7 in the nation in blocked shots, sent five Arizona State shots back in the final eight minutes of the half, finishing with 12 blocks total. The Trojans also outrebounded Arizona State 50 to 30 for the game and 22 to 15 in the second half.

The Sun Devils ended the game only making one of 12 shots in a drought that lasted nearly seven minutes as USC finished on a 15-6 run.

Hurley attributed the Sun Devils running out of gas at the end to carryover from the marathon against UCLA and having to mount a double-digit comeback.

“We didn’t have enough to finish,” Hurley said.

Even though Arizona State didn’t come out with the win, Hurley was pleased with his team’s effort despite the adversity.

“Just having our backs against the wall in both games, knowing you’re shorthanded … a number of teams could have easily mailed it in down 18 in the first half,” Hurley said. “I admire our effort, how we tried, we just didn’t have enough.”

Hurley said Martin will be working over the next several days on getting the necessary testing needed for next week’s game.

The Sun Devils, having now lost three straight games, will have some time before their next matchup Thursday in Eugene, Oregon, against the No. 17 Ducks.

Tipoff is 7 p.m. and all the action can be heard on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station.


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