(Photo: Steve Rodriguez/Sun Devil Athletics)
It’d be fair to say Arizona State’s strong nonconference performance skewed expectations heading into Pac-12 play.
A home win over then-No. 18 Texas A&m and road wins at UNLV and Creighton had ASU sitting pretty at 10-3 heading into its conference slate.
Three months later, Oregon State ended ASU’s first season under Bobby Hurley in a 75-66 contest in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
“Regardless of what happens in the regular season, how that might beat you down, I think we should all manage our expectations,” Hurley said. “We were picked pretty low (in the Pac-12), and maybe with the nonconference that changed some, but we got to where we were and maybe a tick below, but certainly, my expectations weren’t met where I just felt like there was more that we could’ve given as a group, and I think that’s the problem.”
OSU jumped out to a quick 9-2 lead, and in the first seven minutes of the game, ASU shot just 2-of-11. Things didn’t get much better offensively from that point. The Sun Devils finished shooting 22-of-61 (36 percent) from the field.
“We were just really inefficient on offense,” Hurley said. “Obviously, the numbers support that. Just didn’t have enough guys playing well in a big game like this, especially in the first half.”
However, ASU’s defense kept it within striking range for nearly every minute of the contest. Despite its hot start, OSU finished the game 21-of-51, and All-Pac-12 senior guard Gary Payton II didn’t tally his first points until the second half following a breakaway dunk.
On the night, Payton mustered up 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting and nine rebounds.
On several occasions, the Sun Devils made mini-runs to cut the OSU lead to five, six or seven points, but ultimately, it never got closer than that.
“Our offense was really, really bad,” Hurley said. “We were just settling for jump shots, and we weren’t shooting them with confidence, and we weren’t attacking.”
A simple layup from OSU senior forward Jarmal Reid extended the lead to 16 points with 4:17 remaining, but a layup from sophomore guard Tra Holder cut the deficit to seven points with 93 seconds remaining.
Holder was relatively quiet against the Beavers and finished with 10 points and seven assists before fouling out with 30 seconds remaining.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Hurley said. “He wasn’t himself out there. Very quiet, not what we needed tonight.”
ASU senior guard Gerry Blakes finished what was likely his final game as a Sun Devil with 20 points, eight rebounds and three steals. After the game, Blakes was short and simple in his evaluation of the game.
“We didn’t make enough plays,” Blakes said.
ASU senior center Eric Jacobsen turned in another solid scoring effort with 11 points and eight rebounds. It was the fourth-consecutive double-digit effort for Jacobsen, the first time he achieved that feat in his career. He was just coming off tying his career-high of 20 points in ASU’s loss to California.
“It was a long season,” Jacobsen said. “A lot of ups and downs, but we fought as a team, and stuck with it.”
ASU’s 2015-16 campaign ends at 15-17. Despite the obviously rocky performance in its conference schedule, eight wins against the top-100 teams in the RPI is nothing to sniff at in what was largely a transition season. Still yet, ending a season below .500 despite a plethora of bright spots is tough to swallow.
“Sometimes, life is like that,” Blakes said. “I guess that’s the cards we were dealt this year.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org