ASU headed back to the drawing board?
Two days after Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said his team was past the point of reinventing itself, Sendek was back to his tinkering ways.
Forced into more tweaks by an inefficient offense Thursday night at Oregon State, Sendek turned to freshmen point guards Tra Holder and Kodi Justice after early turnovers put the Sun Devils in an immediate hole. The maneuvering did not change the outcome in a 55-47 loss to the Beavers at Gill Coliseum, it may signal more changes in the near future.
ASU (8-7, 0-2 Pac-12) was at its most fluid and most effective offensively when Justice was on the floor in the second half, and he had a hand in the run that brought the Sun Devils within three points in final four minutes.
But Oregon State (10-4, 1-1) hit its free throws down the stretch and the Sun Devils did not get closer. The Beavers made 20 of 25 free throws while improving to 9-0 at home this season.
After committing a season-high 22 turnovers in a 73-49 loss at No. 8 Arizona on Sunday, the Sun Devils had 16 more against an Oregon State team with nowhere near the same amount of talent at the Wildcats. ASU has 53 field goals and 54 turnovers in its last three games, including a 56-46 victory against Harvard in its final non-conference game.
"You can’t hurt yourself the way we have with turnovers, especially when you are on the road," Arizona State assistant coach Stan Johnson said in a postgame radio interview Thursday. "We have to have better point guard play. That’s where it all starts. Those guys are good enough, we have to step up and get some leadership at that position."
ASU had 11 turnovers in the first half, after which it trailed 30-20 — its fewest points in a half this season.
The Sun Devils also made more use of seniors shooter Jonathan Gilling and Bo Barnes in place of Savon Goodman and Roosevelt Scott. With Billing, Barnes and Justice complementing center Eric Jacobsen and Shaquielle McKissic, the Sun Devils went on a 9-2 run starting with 8-1/2 minutes to play to get close.
Justice made a 3-pointer from the from the left wing to trim Oregon State’s lead to 44-39, and Gilling rebounded a missed Justice free throw and put in a layup to make it 44-41 with 3:57 remaining. Justice set up Jacobsen and then found McKissic on a layup with 1:02 left to keep it a five-point deficit.
The Sun Devils used that group to force Oregon State out of a 2-3 zone defense, and it was almost enough.
"When we went with our shooters, it gave us a little lift offensively," Johnson said. "That made our offense a little more free-flowing. In the second half we did a good job of taking care of the ball."
Jacobsen and McKissic had 11 points apiece, and Barnes and Scott had five. Goodman, who had double-doubles against Lehigh and Detroit, had two points and three rebounds in 18 minutes. Justice had three points and Blakes had two.
Guards Malcom Duvivier (15 points) and Gary Payton II (12 points) led Oregon State, which also had a 34-24 rebounding edge. The Beavers also had 15 second-chance points and seemed to get to almost every loose ball.
After starting six games earlier in the season, Justice had played three, zero, seven and seven minutes since being replaced by Blakes at the point in a 93-54 victory over Detroit. Blakes had not played the point in high school or junior college until moving there for the Detroit game, and it has been a bumpy ride. He had three turnovers in the first six minutes and played only 64 seconds at the point the rest of the game, that at the start of the second half before leaving after committing his third foul of the game on the Beavers’ first possession.
With a game at Oregon on Saturday, the position seems is about as unsettled as it has been since the start of practice in October.
"Everybody has had their bright moments, and they’ve all had moments that they don’t care too much about," Johnson said. "It’s just an inconsistent deal. You don’t know every night what you are getting. You have two freshmen who have never been in that position and a junior college guy who is a combo guard. So you have three new guys, and it is hard to stabilize an offense and time that is new.
"They have to take great pride, regardless of anything, in taking care of the basketball and creating plays for their teammates. If they can do those two things, we’ll be fine."