ASU Basketball: Sun Devils’ dance ends in the Sweet 16

ASU basketball was overpowered by Mississippi State in the Sweet 16 putting an end to an impressive season for the Sun Devils.

The No. 5 seeded Arizona State Sun Devils squared off against the No. 1 seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Sweet 16 but were overwhelmed with the height and skill of the Bulldogs and lost 76-53.

The focus of the Sun Devil’s defense was on Mississippi State star, Teaira McCowan. The 6’7” senior came into the game averaging a team high 18.4 points per game in addition to hauling in 13.5 rebounds per game.

The Sun Devil defense did everything they could to try to limit the touches and chances that McCowan could create. Even when McCowan did not have the ball there were two Sun Devils draped all over her, being physical so that she could not get the position she wanted.

The strategy worked throughout the majority of the game on McCowan, limiting her to only one field goal attempt through three-quarters.

Arizona State was playing extremely physical to try to match the strength that McCowan brings and it began to backfire on the team. The bigs on ASU began to pick up fouls at a high rate.

Kianna Ibis, the leading scorer for ASU on the season, picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter that forced her to sit out the majority of the half.

“We just tried to match their physicality.” Ibis said. “We weren’t disciplined today, and it really showed.”

Ibis scored a team high 16 points in only 19 minutes for ASU. She shot 5-for-7 from the field and was 2-for-2 from three.

When Ibis was able to get a shot up she actually had a good day shooting, the problem was she was either on the bench because of fouls, or she was unable to get a shot up because of Mississippi State’s suffocating defense.

Fouls played a big role in the game, and for ASU four players picked up at least four fouls, including Sophia Elenga, Jamie Ruden and Charnea Johnson-Chapman who all fouled out.

Even ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne got in on the action when she picked up a technical foul for yelling at the refs for the one-sidedness of fouls being called against ASU.

“That’s how I got my technical,” Turner Thorne said. “You call a foul every time. I didn’t think I should get a technical for saying that. I didn’t get warned either.”

Arizona State was called for 26 personal fouls not including Turner Thorne’s technical, compared to Mississippi State’s 17 foul calls.

The foul trouble led to Mississippi State shooting 25-for-35 from the free throw line. ASU only shot 12 free throws total and made seven of them.

With ASU’s defense focusing so much of their attention onto McCowan, the other Bulldog players got a lot of open, uncontested shots.

Every starter for Mississippi State got into double-digits scoring. Guard Andra Espinoza-Hunter was a key factor in the Bulldog offense. She shot 5-of-11 including 2-of-6 from three all adding up to 12 points for the sophomore.

Even after getting off to a slow start, McCowan was able to pour in a game high 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting. She did the majority of her damage from the charity strike where she went 10-for-11.

For ASU, their offense struggled mightily against Mississippi State’s elite defense. With the height of McCowan in the middle, ever shot in the paint is affected by her even if she doesn’t block it.

There were many instances where players for ASU would have an open layup, but because McCowan was nearby they would change their shot in fear of getting blocked and ultimately miss the shot all together.

The Sun Devils also struggled mightily to control the ball. The team committed 16 turnovers throughout the game compared to Mississippi State’s seven.

Overall it was a very rough game for ASU and coach Turner Thorne. This marks the end of a season in which many fans will consider a success. They were able to make it past the Round of 32 for the first time since 2015, and their four seniors finally got a taste of the Sweet 16.

For Mississippi State, they will advance to the Elite Eight where they will play the No. 2 seed Oregon Ducks in a rematch from earlier this year.

In the first meeting they traveled to Eugene where they were defeated 74-82 for one of their only two losses on the season. The two teams will meet again on Sunday for a chance to head to the Final Four.

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