Sun Devils can’t hang on, fall to Oregon
EUGENE, Ore. — About the only person not all that impressed by Oregon’s Jordan Bell matching a 30-year-old school record with eight blocked shots on Saturday was the 6-foot-9 freshman himself.
"Yeah, I know," Bell laughed as he recalled getting 28 blocks one time, 25 another and then 22 against "a whole bunch of D-I players" during his prep days at Long Beach Poly in California.
Bell was the hot topic after Joseph Young scored 16 points and Elgin Cook hit two clinching free throws with 9.3 seconds left to give the Ducks a 59-56 victory over Arizona State.
"Eight blocks and (Bell) saved us on every one of them, so I can’t say enough good things about him right now," Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "He’s focused, he’s listening and he’s trying to do everything we want him to do."
Cook added 14 points for the Ducks (12-4, 2-1 Pac-12), who won for the seventh time in eight games coming off Thursday night’s 18-point loss to No. 7 Arizona.
Shaquielle McKissic led the Sun Devils (8-8, 0-3), who share the Pac-12 cellar with Washington, with 18 points and Eric Jacobsen had 13.
McKissic had two chances to tie the score in the final seconds, but he missed two free throws with 11.6 seconds left and Oregon leading 57-55, then his step-back 3-pointer from the left wing was short at the buzzer.
"It wasn’t a very good shot," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "They did a good job switching, and in those kinds of situations, you’ve got to make a tough one in most cases.
"I’d have much rather been in Oregon’s situation than ours, ahead by three on defense."
Bell, who had a game with six blocks earlier this season, tied the Oregon mark set by former NBA center Blair Rasmussen. Bell also owns the single-season school record with 59 blocks in just 16 games to rank second in the Pac-12.
Bell’s rim protection helped limit the Sun Devils to 40.4 percent shooting, but ASU was its own worst enemy at the foul line, finishing just 15 of 26.
"The single biggest factor that we’re not celebrating right now is our free-throw shooting," Sendek said. "In a close game of this nature, that was critical."
Bell’s biggest contribution may have been his rebound basket with 1:48 to play that tied the score for the 12th and final time at 55-55. Cook’s steal then led to Bell’s go-ahead, fast-break layup with 1:08 left that put the Ducks ahead for good.
"A lot of conference games come down to just grinding them out," Altman said. "We were fortunate.
"We got outrebounded, our ball movement wasn’t what it needed to be, we had some bad turnovers, we gave up a few easy baskets, but our guys found a way."
Neither team found anything close to an offensive rhythm in the first half. The Sun Devils missed 10 of their first 16 shots and had five turnovers in the first 12 minutes yet still held a 14-12 lead.
The Ducks, meanwhile, were even more inept, with more turnovers (nine) than field goal attempts (eight) at that point.
Trailing by six, Oregon didn’t stir its home crowd of 5,637 – the fewest to see a Pac-12 game since the Ducks christened their 12,364-seat arena four years ago – to life until Bell finished a fast break with a rousing dunk to cut ASU’s lead to 20-19. When Dwayne Benjamin scored a put back on the Ducks’ next possession with 2:45 before the half, it was their first offensive rebound of the game.
Elgin Cook’s layup with less than a second left gave Oregon a 25-23 halftime lead.
Despite his team’s third straight loss, Sendek came away pleased with the way his Sun Devils played against the Ducks coming off an 8-point road loss at Oregon State on Thursday. "I thought they really played the right way and put themselves in a position to win," he said. "Perhaps it sounds like we’re reveling in some sort of moral victory, and that’s not the case at all. We wanted to win and not winning hurts a great deal."
Altman was effusive in his praise of Bell to the point that, if the freshman continues to develop his game on offense and "throw his body around" on defense, he has the upside to become an all-conference player, "projecting him a year or two down the road." As for Bell’s remarkable athleticism, the 56-year-old coach said that wasn’t hard for him to appreciate. "For a guy who can’t jump, I go ‘wow’ every time he leaves the floor."
Arizona State: The Sun Devils, who open the Pac-12 season with five of their first seven games on the road, have now lost 14 consecutive games away from their home court. Four of those losses were at neutral sites. ASU’s last road win came at California on Jan. 29, 2014.
Oregon: The Ducks finished their longest home stand of the season with their sixth win in seven games and second in three Pac-12 contests to open the conference season. With just six home games left, Oregon’s attendance is down nearly 2,000 from last year’s average of 7,782.
Arizona State: Hosts Utah on Thursday night.
Oregon: At Washington State on Thursday night.