It was another case of close but no go for the Arizona State Sun Devils basketball team and this one had to hurt worse than the previous four losses because it came at the hands of rival Arizona.
The visiting Wildcats got a put back by 6-foot-11 Azuolas Tubelis at the buzzer for an 84-82 victory over the Sun Devils Thursday night in Pac-12 play at Desert Financial Arena.
It marked the fifth straight loss for the first time in coach Bobby Hurley’s tenure. It was the fourth straight contest that has been decided in the last possessions, with none of those going the Sun Devils way.
The contest was knotted at 82 and the Sun Devils (4-7, 1-4) had the ball with 38 seconds left. Senior point guard Remy Martin drove to the basket with nine seconds left only to be met by Tubelis who jarred the ball loose. No foul was called and the teams raced to the other end.
James Akinjo missed the jumper but Tubelis collected the rebound and put it back in as time expired.
Hurley has been rather even keel despite the losing streak but wasn’t short on words following the contest and thought a foul should have been called to send Martin to the line.
“I thought Remy Martin, after watching it live, and then watching it again on film after, clearly was fouled by a player in the restricted area,” Hurley said. “That player did not leave his feet. He was contacted. His arms did not go straight up. And the guy should have been whistled for a foul and (Martin) put at the free throw line. So you’re talking about a guy that is as decorated a player as there is in the conference that goes to the hoop at a critical moment in the game and they swallow their whistles. That kid goes and gets knocked on his (backside). They went down and scored. And the rest is history.”
It has been that kind of season for the Sun Devils, who lost to UCLA in overtime 81-75 two weeks ago. That was followed by a loss to USC despite being close until the final minutes with ASU playing without four players for the second straight game. Then came a one-point loss to Oregon State Saturday in which the difference was a dunk with four seconds to go.
When the Sun Devils put together a seven-game win streak last season, six were decided by five points or less. Those games are not going ASU’s way this season.
“It’s been a very disappointing year in terms of these type of games, been a very tough year. Not getting the results we were hoping for,” Hurley said. “I thought we deserved to win the basketball game tonight. “
The Wildcats (11-3, 5-3) led by as many as 11 in the first half but ASU battled back midway through the second, taking their first lead since 3-0 when Holland Woods scored on a fast-break layup for a 45-43 lead five minutes in.
It was a hard-fought battle the rest of the way with four ties and 11 changes.
ASU looked to be in good shape up 82-77 after a 3-pointer by Josh Christopher with 2:21 to play but the Sun Devils didn’t score again.
Arizona got a 3-pointer by Akinjo with 1:32 left to get within two, then pulled even at 82-all on a pair of free throws by Terrell Brown with 1:02 remaining. That set the stage for the frenetic finish.
“We’re thrilled,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “It’s the fun part of coaching when you can win a game like that. It’s not very fun when you don’t. We’re going to enjoy our ride to Tucson and hopefully get ready to play them again.”
The Sun Devils struggled in the first half but came to life in the second led by Martin, who had 15 of his 18 points in the last 20 minutes. He also dished out six assists and went 7-for-7 from the free throw line. Christopher also netted 18 and grabbed five rebounds.
Hurley also singled out the play of sophomore Jalen Graham who had 10 points and three blocks in his first game since Dec. 16. He had missed the previous four with mononucleosis.
Akinjo led all scorers with 24, leading four Wildcats in double figures.
The Sun Devils will look for some redemption when they travel to Tucson to face the Wildcats again on Monday at the McKale Center, Hurley said.
“It’s disappointing, but at the same time we play them on Monday. So we get revenge on Monday. So we just got to put what’s in the past in the past and that clock already hit zero, zero, zero. So we got to just lock back in, watch film and then play on Monday. We can get revenge, so hopefully we can get a [win] out there.”