Arizona State is point guard Jahii Carson’s team, and at no time in the last two seasons was that more apparent than Sunday, when Carson was not himself because of right ankle injury suffered earlier in the Wooden Legacy.
Carson had neither his normal spring or explosion, and it was a major factor in the Sun Devils’ 60-57 loss to Miami at the Honda Center.
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Despite the seventh double-double of the season from dominant center Jordan Bachynski, ASU was unable to maintain an eight-point lead in the final 10 minutes in the tournament’s fifth-place game.
The Wooden Legacy was to be a litmus test of sorts for ASU, which made it a point to strengthen its schedule this season in order to help the NCAA tournament selection committee’s sorting process the second week of March.
The inability to hold a lead against the Hurricanes, even with an obviously limited Carson, put a bit of a pall on the Sun Devils’ 6-0 start that was capped by a scintillating 79-77 victory over No. 25 Marquette at Wells Fargo Arena on Monday.
ASU (7-2) suffered a 28-point loss to No. 20 Creighton on Thanksgiving night, and after putting away College of Charleston 80-58 behind Carson’s 21 points and seven assists on Friday, the Sun Devils fell to 1-2 in the tournament with the loss to Miami, a good program but one that lost all five starters from its 2013 Sweet Sixteen team led by point guard Shane Larkin.
Carson, who entered the Miami game with a 21.5-point scoring average, scored eight points and added three rebounds and three assists. He was 2 of 14 from the floor, in some part because he was unable to finish penetrations to the basket with his usual success. In the second half, Carson had two assists but was 0 for 9 from the floor and committed three turnovers.
“I don’t want to make excuses for an injury, but Jahii usually can get into the lane and finish there, and he didn’t have any lift,” ASU assistant coach Larry Greer said in a radio interview.
“That hurt us a little bit.”
ASU, which with a good Wooden Classic showing had a chance to enter the top 25, will have some time to let Carson heal. The Sun Devils do not play again until Friday, when they visit DePaul, and after taking a break for final exams do not have their next game until meeting Grambling on Dec. 14 at Wells Fargo. They have another week off before playing host to Texas Tech on Dec. 21, and by that time not only might Carson be back to full strength but Michigan State transfer Brandon Kearney should be eligible. Kearney had to sit out the first semester due to transfer rules.
The Sun Devils were in control in the first half Sunday, starting when Carson made a 3-pointer 22 seconds into the game. Marshall, Jonathan Gilling and sophomore transfer Sai Tummala hit 3-pointers as ASU found openings on the perimeter of Miami’s 2-3 zone defense, and Carson’s second 3, off a feed from Gilling, made it 19-14 halfway through the first half. Carson made two free throws for a 23-14 lead, and a Bachynski slam on an assist from Gilling gave ASU a 10-point edge at 28-18 with 2:28 remaining.
Gilling finished with three points and a career-high nine assists.
The complexion of the game changed shortly, however, when Carson left the floor accompanied by a member of the training staff and went to the ASU dressing room with 47.5 seconds remaining in the first half after putting extra torque on his right ankle as he attempted a driving left-handed layup.
Carson took a 30-second break after aggravating the injury later in the second half, and while he played the final 13 minutes (and played 39 minutes total), he did it with a noticeable limp.
ASU attempted to compensate behind Bachynski, who had 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocked shots, and Jermaine Marshall, who had 14 points and made three of the Sun Devils’ eight 3-pointers.
The game turned when Bachynski went out with his third foul with 11:05 remaining, however, and Miami went on a 12-0 run. ASU called a timeout to get Bachynski back into the game 2 1/2 minutes later, but by the time he dunked on a follow after a Marshall miss, the Hurricanes had taken the lead at 51-47.
Egor Koulechov’s 3-pointer off a Carson pass put the Sun Devils back on top at 52-51, and Marshall (two free throws) and Bachynski (a layup and a free throw) kept them ahead entering the final two minutes, but Miami scored the final four points as ASU missed its final four field-goal attempts over three possessions.
ASU had scored fewer than 78 points in only one of its first six games, that when Bradley slowed the tempo, but finished with 60 points twice in the tournament.
“We played their (Miami’s) style of play. They wanted to stay in that zone, and we couldn’t pull away from them,” Greer said.
“We just didn’t get the same penetration we had (after) Jahii hurt his ankle a little bit. They kept on chipping away.”