A go-ahead 3-pointer from Bennie Boatwright lifted USC over ASU basketball, 69-67, ending the Sun Devils’ three-game win streak and a chance at a road sweep.
Up to this point, free throw shooting had been Arizona State’s Achilles heel. No matter how well the Sun Devils could control the glass, lock down their opponent or electrify transition plays, struggles from the stripe denied the fullest of a physical, forceful unit.
With 24 seconds remaining in Saturday’s contest with USC, this was not the case. At that point, a 22-of-25 clip kept ASU ahead, overriding a night where it shot 19-of-62 from the field and committed 15 turnovers.
And with a 67-66 advantage, a shot at the first road sweep in coach Bobby Hurley‘s tenure, the program’s first since 2010 and the first over UCLA and USC since 1987, senior forward Zylan Cheatham had a chance to put each curse away with one more make, 15 feet away from the rim.
Kevin Porter Jr. took the rebound, advancing a pass in the frontcourt to Derryck Thornton. Thornton turned, paused, and waited for senior forward Bennie Boatwright – who could’ve went to the NBA Draft in June – to get through a screen. Boatwright fired and buried the game-winning 3-pointer, breathing new life into ASU’s burdens, in a crushing 69-67 defeat.
Despite recording his fourth foul with 9:19 left in the second half, Boatwright led the Trojans (12-8, 5-2 Pac-12) with 17 points, four rebounds and two assists. Nick Rakocevic – who was disqualified in the game’s final two minutes – followed with 15 points and nine rebounds.
For the Sun Devils (14-6, 5-3 Pac-12), the loss extended a 36-week drought without a road sweep in conference play. ASU was also unable to pick up its first win at the Galen Center since Jan. 9, 2014.
After trailing for most of the second half, the Sun Devils took the lead, 65-62, with 3:41 remaining thanks to back-to-back triples from Remy Martin. Martin, who finished the first frame with two points and three assists, switched from facilitator to a scorer, tallying eight of the Sun Devils’ points in the final 6:20.
USC called timeout, allowing Rakocevic to reenter the game. He went right to work, converting a right-handed hook before hitting two free throws to put USC ahead, 66-65, with 1:46 to play.
Two possessions later, Luguentz Dort split a perimeter seam before driving at Rakocevic, who was in a charge position. The USC forward was whistled for his fifth foul, allowing Dort to hit two free throws and regain ASU the lead.
The Sun Devils forced two consecutive stops, and Cheatham picked up his 14th rebound before being sent to the free throw line. It was his first and only trip of the night, where he missed the front end of a one-and-one before Boatwright hit the 3-pointer.
Two nights after a 20-rebound performance at UCLA, Cheatham paired his 14 boards with 10 points, one of four Sun Devils to score in double figures tonight. Romello White led ASU with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Aside from USC’s late comeback, tonight’s loss materialized in the first nine minutes of the second half. In that span, the Trojans went on a 13-0 run to build a 52-44 advantage, as the Sun Devils committed eight turnovers while shooting 3-of-13 from the field.
ASU was without freshman forward Taeshon Cherry, who left early in Thursday’s contest after taking an elbow in the face. The Sun Devils scored 19 bench points in the first half but only two in the second, being unable to use the threat of Cherry’s outside shooting.
The loss dropped ASU from second to fifth in the Pac-12 standings, while USC rose to third behind Arizona and Washington. The Wildcats (14-6, 5-2) are currently battling UCLA on ESPN2, while the Huskies improved to 7-0 with a 79-69 win over Oregon State.
Next week, the Sun Devils return to Tempe to host the Wildcats on Jan. 31. There, Hurley will look to accomplish another first – beating Arizona as ASU’s head coach.