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Arizona State MBB suffers heartbreaking loss to Oregon State

Oregon State's Dearon Tucker (35) tries to block a shot by Arizona State's Alonzo Verge Jr. (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. Oregon State won 80-79. (AP Photo/Amanda Loman)

The story of the Arizona State men’s basketball program since the calendar turned to 2021 has been close, but no cigar.

The latest example came in Corvallis on Saturday night against Oregon State when a basket with four seconds left gave the Beavers a victory over the Sun Devils, a game Arizona State desperately needed to win to boost their chances to play in the postseason.

It marked the fourth straight loss for Arizona State (4-6; 1-3 Pac-12), the previous two coming against Pac-12 teams at home in which the Sun Devils were within striking distance to win despite missing a handful of key players.

Arizona State hasn’t found itself in the win column since the Dec. 13 thriller against the Grand Canyon ‘Lopes, with four games being postponed in that time span due to coronavirus issues in a number of programs including the Sun Devils’ own.

A clutch 3-pointer by freshman Marcus Bagley with seven seconds left in regulation gave Arizona State a one-point lead in what happened to be the 19th lead change up to that point.

Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley decided to avoid taking a timeout, a decision he would regret as the Sun Devil defense was not in the right position and allowed a wide-open dunk to put the Beavers (6-5; 2-3 Pac-12) ahead for good.

“If I could do one thing differently it would have been calling that timeout, possibly just to maybe get a couple of bigger bodies on the court for that last play,” Hurley said after the game. “That’s what my heart was telling me to do in that moment when he hit it. Something else was telling me to let it go.”

“I can’t have a gut instinct and then go against it,” Hurley said.

What made the ending particularly painful is it appeared the Sun Devils were on the cusp of taking control throughout the game.

Arizona State’s offense was the best it had been since the wins against Houston Baptist and California earlier in the season, aided by the return of senior point guard Remy Martin.

Martin missed the last two games attending his grandfather’s funeral and going through the coronavirus protocol.

The team tied season-highs in shooting (50%) and assists (22) with four players scoring in double-digits, led by freshman Marcus Bagley who had 19. Arizona State was also very clean with the ball, only committing four turnovers while scoring 12 points off of Oregon State’s 11 turnovers.

Arizona State’s only weakness on offense for most of the contest Saturday night was getting the ball in the basket from beyond the arch, only making five of 21 3-point opportunities (24%).

“We need to do that a little better,” Hurley said. “Not necessarily that cost us the game, but just overall if you look at our last three games, our opponent has made two or more threes than we have.

“Our numbers are not reflective of our ability to shoot it and we got to do a better job of connecting from three.”

Martin had particular trouble with his 3-point shot, missing all eight chances. However, he did end up with 14 points and made all eight of his free throws.

Arizona State’s inability to drain the long ball hurt their ability to build leads, with their largest lead of the game being capped at 2.

Oregon State, meanwhile, had no problem making shots from deep for most of the game.

The Beavers ended the game making nine of 21 chances from beyond the arch, achieving a 43% mark that was around 50% until the Sun Devils tightened up in the final ten minutes. Oregon State also shot a decent 46% from the field to hold Arizona State at bay.

Jarod Lucas and Ethan Thompson were problems for the Arizona State defense, with the two combining to hit six of the Oregon State 3-pointers and accumulating 35 points on the night.

With the focus on Lucas and Thompson, Warith Alatishe was able to sneak into the paint on the game’s penultimate play and be the hero with the game-winning dunk as Arizona State couldn’t match the basket on the final possession with seconds left.

Despite the loss, Alonzo Verge Jr. felt the Sun Devils may be getting close to reaching that shooting potential they had coming into the season.

“We got a special group of guys and it’s all about bringing it all together,” Verge Jr. said. “Tonight was our first step in doing that.”

The Sun Devils will need to find that groove offensively when they take on the rival Arizona Wildcats Thursday night in Tempe.

Hurley is hoping sophomore forward Jalen Graham will be able to return for the game after missing the last three due to mononucleosis. There was no word on if junior forward Taeshon Cherry would be available after being out the last three games due to coronavirus protocols.

Having both those players back would help Arizona State close the rebound gap after being outrebounded 35-27 on Saturday night.

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

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