ASU Basketball: Sun Devils suffer first loss against No. 6 Nevada

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 14: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts against the Syracuse Orange during the First Four of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 14, 2018 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
DAYTON, OH - MARCH 14: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts against the Syracuse Orange during the First Four of the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 14, 2018 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

No. 20 ASU basketball dominated the first half, but foul trouble and a stagnated offense derailed the second half and a late rally in a 72-66 loss to No. 6 Nevada.

Arizona State’s 7-0 start was special. Not only was it the second straight year the Sun Devils reached the mark under coach Bobby Hurley, it was the second time in a duration nearing four decades the program achieved it.

History aside, the bliss had more to do with recency – and specifically, what was missing. ASU became the Pac-12’s final unbeaten team, and one of the nation’s last 11, often without contributions from sophomore guard Remy Martin, junior transfer Rob Edwards and returning junior Mickey Mitchell.

But in their eighth game, a 72-66 loss to No. 6 Nevada, it was the unfamiliarity behind those returning pieces that became their undoing.

“To a certain extent, it was just a little different,” said senior forward Zylan Cheatham. “We hadn’t had those practices under our belt.”

In their returns to the hardwood, ASU’s three absentees shot a combined 2-of-16 from the field, often forcing shot attempts and struggling to find a flow in the offense.

“It’s a little bit unfair to Rob, and even Remy,” Hurley said. “I would see vast improvement in both of those guys as they continue to stay in our practices and get another full week under their belt.”

Even while integrating new pieces, the Sun Devils executed a commanding defensive first half. ASU held the Wolf Pack, who entered the game averaging 88 points, to just 24 points on 8-of-25 shooting, including a dismal 1-of-11 from 3-point range.

The period was particularly tough for senior forward and AP preseason All-American Caleb Martin. Often guarded by Luguentz Dort, Martin finished the first half with three points, missing all six of his attempts from beyond the arc.

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“I loved how we started,” Hurley said. “Our intensity on defense and our aggression on defense just made things very difficult, and [we] got off to the kind of start you love to get off to in a big game like this.”

By half’s end, the Sun Devils held a 12-point lead boosted by a rebounding margin of +11 and 10 forced Wolf Pack turnovers.

But like all good teams do, Nevada made its runs. In the second half’s first 4:09, it was an 8-2 spurt capped by a Cody Martin transition layup to cut the lead to six. Nearly seven minutes later, it was a 17-4 burst highlighted by his brother Caleb’s first 3-pointer to put them ahead.

And five minutes after that, the Wolf Pack put the hypothetical nail in the coffin, building a 10-point lead with 5:03 remaining, a margin ASU struggled to overcome.

“We feel very comfortable under six minutes when we have a lead,” Nevada coach Eric Musselman said. “They did a phenomenal job of milking the clock and playing the percentages down the stretch.”

“The second half showed our maturity,” added Caleb Martin. “At the end of the day, college basketball is all about experience and maturity, so that definitely showed in the second half.”

Martin scored 12 of his 15 points in the second period. Jordan Caroline, the Wolf Pack’s most consistent scorer on the night, added six points to his total of 16 paired with eight rebounds.

For ASU, the lapse came down to offensive woes and foul trouble. The Sun Devils shot 39.3 percent in the second half, and several possessions had to be bailed out by Dort, who finished with 17 of the team’s 30 points in the period.

With the offense motionless, Nevada ran in transition. They entered the bonus before the midway point of the second half and would later force 14 total fouls on the Sun Devils in the period alone.

The recipe spelled disaster for sophomore forward Kimani Lawrence, who was disqualified after committing three of his fouls in five second half minutes.

But even then, the Sun Devils still had a chance. Remy Martin’s only 3-pointer of the night topped an 8-1 run for ASU to cut its deficit to one with two minutes to play.

After two free throws from Cody Martin, Dort went 1-of-2 at the charity stripe to cut the lead back to two. However, Martin dribbled down the clock and converted a left-handed layup on the next play, officially putting the Sun Devils out of reach.

Dort led the way for the Sun Devils with 24 points and 4 rebounds while Cheatham added 13 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

With the loss, ASU’s 20-game regular season non-conference win streak came to an end, a mark that dated back to 2016. It also broke their unbeaten record, the last of any team in the Pac-12.

While the team won’t focus elsewhere, they know the next three games – at Georgia, Vanderbilt and a home game against No. 2 Kansas – will be pivotal in their postseason hopes.

For now, however, it’s time to reflect on a tough loss.

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“We got a lot to learn from it,” Cheatham said. “I don’t think we executed our offense the way we can. I don’t think we shared the ball like we did in the first half. Those situations, we have to know time and score. And we got to figure it out at that point.”

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.