Too little, too late for ASU in loss to Stanford

TEMPE, Ariz. – Because of its physicality and versatility, Stanford is not an easy matchup for anyone in the Pac-12. The Cardinal’s bigs have the range of rangy guards. And when they’re making more than 50 percent of their 3-point attempts, they can seem impossible to stop.

Arizona State combated Stanford the best way it could Saturday, going small over the final 14 minutes and forcing tempo in an attempt to get open perimeter shots of its own, but that was not enough to overcome a 16-point second-half deficit in Stanford’s 62-59 victory at Wells Fargo Arena.

Mobile Cardinal forwards 6-foot-10 Dwight Powell and 6-7 Josh Huestis combined for 35 points and 22 rebounds, and each made both of his 3-point attempts as the Sun Devils were unable to apply enough pressure with their regular group. Forward John Gage, 6-10, who is much more comfortable on the perimeter, also made three of his four 3-point attempts.

When it was over, two numbers stood out:

Even with the bigs shooting from outside, Stanford (15-9, 6-5) went 10 for 18 from 3-point range.
ASU (18-6, 7-4) went 8 for 16 from the free-throw line.

Even then, the Sun Devils had a chance to tie after a strange series of events in the final 14.6 seconds. Jonathan Gilling hit a 3-pointer to make 62-59, and ASU regained the ball when Chris Colvin tied up Chasson Randle with the possession arrow in the Sun Devils’ favor.

ASU could not get a good shot, with Bo Barnes missing a long 3-pointer, and Stanford claimed the rebound with 1.6 seconds left. But Powell attempted to throw a long inbounds from under the ASU basket and hit the midcourt scoreboard — which is 21 feet, 1 inch above the floor — and the ball returned to ASU on the turnover.

Jahii Carson could not find an open 3-point shooter, though, and Stanford’s Andy Brown intercepted a pass intended for Gilling at the top of the key to end the game.

“Going into the game, we were very aware of the matchup challenges that Powell and Huestis cause. That matchup along the front line was difficult for us. Truth be told, we had some challenges carrying over our preparation into execution,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said.

“Those guys are terrific players, having outstanding years, very athletic and versatile. In order to try to get back in the game, we went small ball and made a flurry. We had some opportunities with some open looks that might have put us even in a better position.”

ASU, which most computer simulations had as a first-four participant in the NCAA tournament going into the weekend series against the Bay Area schools, will try regain some ground on the road at Utah and Colorado next week. ASU beat each team here on the first weekend of league play.

The Sun Devils got six points and nine rebounds out of post players Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev, and after falling behind by 15 at 49-34 with 12:23 remaining, they played the rest of the game without a center.

Sendek went with wings Jonathan Gilling, an undersized four as it is, and Carrick Felix along with guards Jahii Carson, Evan Gordon and Chris Colvin, with occasional offense-for-defense shifts to get Barnes in the game.

“Their posts were pretty much doing whatever they wanted to do, so we tried to switch up and catch them off-guard with a little bit of pressure. Speed the guards up a little bit and not let them get the bigs the ball as much,” Carson said.

“When we play like that, I think it causes teams more trouble because the guards can’t get the ball to the bigs. That takes them out of the flow of the game, and that’s what we were trying to do at the end.”

Felix had his ninth double-double of the season, leading ASU with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Carson had 15 points, five rebounds and four assists and Gilling had 13 points, six rebounds and five assists. ASU out-rebounded Stanford, 38-36, by virtue of its 15 offensive rebounds.

The Sun Devils made only 34.4 percent of their field goal attempts, a season low. They made seven of their final eight free throws after making one of their first eight.

“It always comes down to the little things like free throws and 50/50 balls,” Felix said.

ASU ranks last in the Pac-12 in free throw percentage, making 62.1 percent in all games and 60.5 percent in conference games.

“It’s very frustrating, because I see us working on it each and every day,” Felix said. “It’s just a focus thing when you step up to the line in a game. The crowd is there. It’s going to be a lot of pressure. You just have to clear you head and focus and knock the free throws down.

“Right now in college basketball, that seems to be what gets team’s wins. That’s something we have to get back to work on and keep chipping away on.”