ARIZONA STATE BASKETBALL
Cinderella strikes midnight for ASU’s NCAA Tournament run in loss to TCU
No, it’s not déjà vu. Arizona State once again was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on a buzzer-beater by a school from Texas.
This time around, No. 11 seed ASU’s Cinderella run struck midnight in a heartbreaking 72-70 loss to No. 6 seed TCU on Friday night in Denver.
“Just heartbroken really for my guys,” Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley told reporters postgame. “Played a winning game. It was a heck of game to be a part of. Credit TCU for doing things out there that they’ve been doing, heck of a team. It was an outstanding basketball game.”
The game itself almost mirrored exactly what the Sun Devils have been all season: a streaky, defense-first team that can catch fire as easily as they can go ice cold from the field.
After a slow start to the contest saw TCU jump out to a 15-4 lead, ASU battled back to take a 44-37 lead into the halftime break and extended that advantage to an 11-point gap with 15 minutes to go in the second half.
And even after the Horned Frogs came roaring back to tie the game, the Sun Devils still had an eight-point lead in crunch time with 4:38 remaining in the ballgame.
But unfortunately for Arizona State, it finished the game the same way it started: chaotic and out of sync.
In all, it wasn’t a bad game per se from Hurley and Co., as the team finished shooting 48% from the field and hit 8-of-17 three-pointers (47%) while going 12-for-18 (67%) from the free throw line. Compare that to the Horned Frogs’ 35% clip from both the floor and deep (8-of-23).
The Achilles heel? Turnovers and offensive rebounds.
TCU dominated in those two metrics, forcing 13 turnovers for 17 points and grabbing 14 offensive boards for 15 second-chance points compared to ASU’s five forced turnovers (four points) and six offensive rebounds (five points).
Hurley pointed to free-throw disparity postgame, with the Horned Frogs hitting 20 of their 27 attempts for a 74% clip. Arizona State wing Devan Cambridge fouled out in the final minute of the game and was only able to contribute four points in 22 minutes due to the foul trouble.
“What we’ve been able to do most of the year is use our defense to create some offense, so points off turnovers,” Hurley said. “Their guard play is really good and they have guys who can handle it and are good with the ball, so we couldn’t turn them over like we have a lot of teams this year.
“Another area that we didn’t do the best job was defensive rebounding,” he added. “We gave up too many offensive rebounds, second-chance points, but really the stat is the free throw differential.”
In what was such a tight contest that featured six ties and 12 lead changes, Arizona State had a lead for over 25 minutes thanks to its 20 bench points and 26 points in the paint.
It was an off-night by Desmond Cambridge Jr.’s standards, who finished with 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting (27%) and a 2-for-7 clip (29%) from deep.
DJ Horne and Warren Washington picked up the slack, leading the Sun Devils with 17 and 11 points, respectively, on 50-plus percent shooting. Horne also hit four 3s for the second consecutive contest, including a clutch game-tying three with 12 ticks to go.
Unfortunately for ASU, it had no answer for TCU guard Mike Miles Jr., who dropped a game-high 26 points in 36 minutes, 12 of which came from the charity strip despite aggravating his right knee on a dunk in the first half.
“Miles is a heck of a player in the Big 12,” Hurley said. “We knew on scouting he was going to drive it and we talked to our guys knowing they were going to be very aggressive drivers to the paint. He really initiated a lot of contact and was able to get himself to the free throw line.”
And in the final seconds of the game, the Sun Devils wisely double-teamed the Horned Frogs’ lead man, forcing him to give up the rock to JaKobe Coles for the game-winning floater.
It will be a tough pill to swallow for Hurley, who has still yet to advance past the round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament in his coaching career. But for a team that was picked to finish seventh in the Pac-12, this Arizona State team can hang its head high on what it accomplished this season and what that can help build for the future of ASU’s basketball program.
“Heartbroken for these guys giving me everything they had all year,” Hurley said. “Just really advanced Arizona State basketball and played winning basketball all year, playing unselfishly, played resilient, battled and fought. It would take the last shot to put us away. So I’m extremely proud and have all the respect in the world for our effort tonight.”
Despite warming up, dressing out and being on the bench, Austin Nunez was once again unable to play after a concussion sidelined him on Feb. 18.