Gold: Sun Devils face tough questions after letting potential upset slip through their grasp
The ball was in Mike Miles’ hands, until it wasn’t.
The momentum was in Arizona State’s hands, until it wasn’t.
The game was in the ASU’s hands, until it wasn’t.
And now Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils face a brutally long offseason with more questions than answers after the upset that wasn’t, a 72-70 last-second loss to 6-seed TCU in a game it led by 8 with under 5 minutes left.
It was the kind of loss that leaves a mark, on the team and on the conference — which suffered its 3rd disheartening loss in two days, first with No. 2 Arizona’s breathtaking loss to 15-seed Princeton yesterday, then with USC’s loss to Michigan State on Friday morning — and even on the region, as now only 4 teams west of Texas remain in the Tourney.
Only one of those teams — UCLA — belongs to the Pac-12, and not for long, at that.
The Bruins may be rolling, but after another brutal letdown on Friday, the Pac-12 is reeling.
With the score tied at 70 and 13 seconds left in the game, everyone in Denver’s Ball Arena knew where the ball was going.
On a night the shots weren’t falling for anyone on the Horned Frogs, except for, perhaps, JaKobe Coles, Miles was more than a 3rd of TCU’s offense. Miles went 6-for-15 from the field and 12-of-14 from the free-throw line en route to a game-high 26 points, so there was no doubt that, with the game on the line, that’s exactly where Miles wanted to be.
That this game was in this position in the first place was a bit of a farce. ASU went ahead 67-62 with 3 minutes, 32 seconds left on a Devan Cambridge layup, then didn’t score for the next 3:14 as the Frogs went on an 8-0 run. So, of course, what happened next? Arizona State’s DJ Horne hits a game-tying 3-pointer with 18 seconds left.
Now it was TCU’s turn, and the Horned Frogs turned to Miles, who took the inbounds pass with 12.4 seconds left and dribbled around the perimeter until Coles met him at the top of the key for a pick-and-roll. ASU’s Frankie Collins and Alonzo Gaffney doubled Miles outside the arc, and Miles found Coles, who drove to the basket as Collins rotated back late, and he uncorked a floater and drained it with 1.5 seconds left.
In a moment — well, a series of moments — ASU’s once-promising run was over.
“Just heartbroken really for my guys,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said after the game. “Played a winning game. It was a heck of a game to be a part of. Credit TCU for doing things out there that they’ve been doing. Heck of a team, and it was outstanding basketball game.”
And it all started so well.
On Wednesday in a First Four throttling of Nevada, the Sun Devils shot 63.6 percent from the field and 52.4 percent from 3-point range. ASU ran the Wolf Pack off the court in a 98-73 win, one of the team’s most complete games of the season.
Leading by 11 with 16 minutes left, they were shooting 62.5 percent from the field and the Frogs were shooting 37.8 percent. The Sun Devils would go on to shot 5-for-20 the rest of the way.
“It’s disappointing, and I just don’t have much more to say,” Hurley said. “I feel awful for these guys because you hate to see them lose like that. But they put their heart and soul into it, so it makes it even feel worse.”
When you lose after being up by 8 with under 5 minutes left, there are bound to be questions.
And Hurley did face the music on Friday, particularly about his last-second decision-making. Instead of calling a timeout and perhaps advancing the ball after Coles’ go-ahead shot, Hurley said he did consider it but didn’t do it.
“I thought about it as the ball was flying through the air when Frankie had it,” he said. “That one you can put on me because I knew I had a time-out, and maybe we could have threw it to half court and flipped it to a guard and they would have taken a dribble and gotten about 20 feet closer. Yeah, that’s certainly something I’ll think about.”
He’s going to think about a heck of a lot more than that.
With a chance to knock off a higher-seeded team from a great basketball conference, the Sun Devils choked it away. Hurley’s status in Tempe is a bit of a question mark as well, as is a roster in a state of flux. Does he return and try to rebuild or does he move back east to one of a bevy of intriguing openings?
The only answers they have right now is this one stings.
“When you’re so close to completing a job like that and you just don’t get it done, it hurts,” Horne said.