By Rich Ruben
The Trojans lost a game at ASU that they should have won. In a few weeks on Selection Sunday they may look back and realize that this loss left them out of the Tournament entirely or with a low seed.
The Trojans led the entire first half and most of the second half, before ultimately falling 66-64. After the game Andy said that the Trojans lost their composure in the middle of the second half, then came back, and then didn’t make the plays they needed in the last few minutes. He went on to say that “we are still a good team”, but “are inconsistent in general “.
SC played good defense, holding the Devils to 31.3% from the field and 32% from three. It’s hard to lose a game playing defense at that level, but somehow it happened. There were several reasons.
First, the Trojans turned the ball over 24 times. They struggled with the ASU press, and several TOs in the backcourt led to easy scores. The Devils outscored SC 21-9 on fast break points. Nick had 5 TOs, and Ethan, Onyeka and Elijah had 4 each.
Second, the three Trojan big men combined for only 13 points. Big O’s minutes were limited in the first half after picking up his second foul, but in his 27 minutes he took only 3 shots and finished with 5 points. Nick made half of his 8 shots for 8 points, and Isaiah was 0-2 from the field in 18 minutes. The lack of scoring from these three players, who average almost 35 points between them, was too much to overcome. The staff must make adjustments to ensure O gets many more opportunities.
In a total reversal, the guards provided the scoring. Jonah had a great game, scoring 22 points on 8-17 from the field and 5-8 from three. Daniel had 15 points, though he made only 4-11 shots, and Ethan was 4-6 including sinking his only two from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points. Elijah struggled and took only 1 shot in his 10 minutes. His turnovers limited his playing time.
Third, the Devils took 12 more shots than the Trojans, due to SC turnovers and ASU out rebounding SC 17-12 on the offensive boards.
Fourth, the Trojans were only 10-17 from the line, mostly as a result of Ethan missing 4 of his 6 attempts. Daniel made 6-7. ASU outscored the Trojans by 6 from the line, making 16-20 attempts.
Fifth, after shooting 47% from the field and leading by 8 at the half, the Trojans shot only 33% in the second half. Jonah had 17 of his 22 in the first half. SC scored only 13 points in the first 12+ minutes in the second half.
And sixth, the only non starter to score for the Trojans was Max with 2 points.
The go ahead basket by Devil point guard Remy Martin spun around the cylinder twice before dropping in. Andy said that they were not suppose to switch on that possession, and by switching they gave Martin more room to drive.
The Trojans got the ball back down 2 with 16 seconds left. In the timeout before the final possession, Andy was giving instructions to Jonah, and I thought he was setting a play for Jonah to take the last shot, but it didn’t play out as designed. Ethan took several seconds dribbling at the top of the key, then drove into traffic and had to force a pass to Jonah with only a couple of seconds left. Jonah was left with an off balance three which missed. The shot was right in front of me, and I thought a defender clearly undercut and fouled him, but there was no call. I asked Andy after the game whether he thought it was a foul, and he said it was “definitely a foul”, and then said that was all he would say about the play.
The Trojans are now 17-7 and 6-5 in league play, and are tied with UCLA in fifth place. They return home to play Washington Thursday at 6:00 and WSU on Saturday at 5:00. There is little margin for error in the final 7 games. They need to win both games this weekend, and presumably at least 5 of the final 7 games, and maybe even 6, or win a couple of games in the PAC 12 Tournament to assure themselves of playing in the Big Dance.
News And Notes From Desert Financial Arena
– The last off balance shot by Jonah was right in front of me. I haven’t seen a replay, but it definitely looked like a foul. Although Jonah was not as hot in the second half, he was the logical choice to take the final shot. He also has been making over 90% of his free throws over the last 8 games. But he didn’t get the ball in time to allow him to do anything other than immediately throw up the final three.
– Andy was somber after the game. He said that ASU double teamed O and Nick most of the game, but the guards missed opportunities to get the ball inside.
– Kyle was slow to get up after the final play of the first half, and it looked like he was limping a bit. It turned out that he was having asthma problems, and didn’t have his inhaler. He did not play in the second half. His absence forced Andy to use Ethan almost the entire half; Quinton struggled to break the press when he replaced Ethan.
– Former SC commit Taeshon Cherry was not a scoring factor, but he grabbed 4 offensive rebounds and 6 in total. He was hurt on the last play of the game, and was helped off the court by teammates and couldn’t put any weight on his left leg.
– There was a foul call against Nick with about 6 minutes left, when it appeared that he had been shoved hard while trying to get a loose ball. Andy was visibly upset by the call, bringing both hands to his head.
– This game was a reversal of form for the Trojans. They started fast, scoring 10 points in the first 2 1/2 minutes, but had only 13 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half In the first half, SC had good ball movement and much less dribbling at the top of the key to start every half court possession.
– I was in the third row behind the Trojan bench with several players’ parents, including Ethan’s, Kyle’s and Drake’s parents. Ethan’s Mom is very enthusiastic. Whenever SC scores she adds a loud two tone yell. It reminded me of Ronnie Coleman’s sister running back and forth along the sideline in the Sports Arena in the late 80’s-early 90’s yelling support for the team.
– In the second half some of the players lost their cool, and there was some bickering between Trojan players on the court. Nothing major, but very unusual for this group.
– Eric Mobley was more active in huddles during breaks than in most games. He was focusing on the big men.
– The ASU arena has a new name this year, but nothing else has changed; there isn’t anything special about it. The students stood throughout the game, but the crowd was pretty quiet until ASU made a run mid way through the second half when they first cut the deficit to 3. The crowd was loud for the rest of the game.
– The ASU student Curtin of Distraction is a fun gimmick, but doesn’t impact an opponent on the line. It’s a good distance away from the basket and well below the sight line of a player shooting from the free throw line. ASU had a DJ at the game. Like the Trojans, the ASU fan base needs encouragement to generate enthusiasm.
– If you haven’t been to Tempe lately, there is a lot of high rise construction taking place. Lots of construction cranes and new projects going up.
This Trojan team struggles to be consistent from game to game and within games. They would be a very good team if they could get everyone playing well together. But after 24 games, it hasn’t happened very often. I assume there aren’t obvious solutions, but the coaching staff cannot let SC play another game in which the team’s star gets only three shots. And the staff needs to install plays to break a press. The Trojans have struggled with every press they have seen, and can expect more teams to press in their remaining games.