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ASU Men’s Basketball: Kentucky rides a strong second half to put away the Sun Devils

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

 

After playing them extremely tough for the first 28 minutes of the game, Arizona State fell apart in the second half and lost to the Kentucky Wildcats 72-58. Sophomore guard Kodi Justice scored 12 for the Sun Devils, and Kentucky freshman guard Jamal Murray had 17 for the Wildcats.

ASU got in an early hole picking up four fouls in the first four minutes, but managed to hang in with the Wildcats for that stretch as Kentucky held a 7-6 lead at the first media timeout.

The timeout woke up the Wildcats and they came out and went on a 7-0 run, sparked by a thunderous dunk by senior forward Alex Poythress that also drew a foul. In this drought, ASU had turned the ball over four times while missing four straight field goal attempts.

Despite a 1-for-8 shooting slump for ASU, they found themselves down by only four with 13:25 remaining in the first half. At this point in the game the Sun Devils had already compiled seven fouls, including two for senior guard Gerry Blakes and junior forward Obinna Oleka.

Sophomore guard Tra Holder drilled a three to cut the Kentucky lead to eight, then the following possession fellow sophomore guard Kodi Justice hit a floater off of an offensive rebound to make it 22-19 Kentucky with 6:22 left in the half.

The Sun Devils had 10 turnovers at the five minute mark while Kentucky only had four, but ASU made their money grabbing eight offensive rebounds, and forcing UK to shoot the three when they only shoot 27.5 percent as a team. The Wildcats made one of their eight attempts from downtown at that point.

Justice nailed a deep three in the final seconds of the first half to make it 32-31 Kentucky at halftime. He provided yet another offensive spark off the bench by scoring seven points by halftime, only trailing Holder who had nine. Junior guard Andre Spight was the only Sun Devil who didn’t pick up a foul in the first half.

Neither team got off to a hot start to the second half with only seven total points scored between the two teams in the first four minutes. Kentucky freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe hit a three with 15:32 left, but Justice responded by hitting another pull-up three of his own to make it 40-36 Kentucky.

Ultimately, Kentucky was too much to handle for the Sun Devils, making seven of nine shots and extending their lead 49-40 with 12:38 left in the game following a layup by junior forward Marcus Lee.

After the Wildcats found their first double-digit lead, there was no looking back. With 8:09 left in the game, the Sun Devils missed two of eight shots and fell behind 59-46. In the midst of a run that put Kentucky ahead 68-48, ASU turned the ball over four times in a little over five minutes.

Player of the Game: Kodi Justice

While the result wasn’t quite the same as Texas A&M, Justice provided a big spark off the bench and was a big reason for the Sun Devils hanging around for so long. His three-point shooting and aggressiveness to get in the lane and distribute gave Kentucky serious issues.

Biggest Concern: Gerry Blakes

Blakes has had a rough stretch of offensive performances, and today’s foul trouble didn’t give him any help in getting back into a rhythm. He finished with six points, and just wasn’t his aggressive, rim-attacking self that we have come accustomed to seeing.

Unsung Hero: Tra Holder

Holder struggled in the second half and left an obvious mark on the first half with nine points, but where he helped the Sun Devils the most was creating plays. He battled with Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis all day and until he became nonexistent in the second half, Holder and Ulis were virtually equal.

Stat of the Game: 46 percent from the free throw line

While the Sun Devils turned the ball over way too much as well, the free throw percentage is more surprising considering how well ASU has shot from the stripe all season long.

What’s Next?

ASU plays UNLV on December 2 in Las Vegas.

 

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