WSU (6-10, 1-4 in Pac-12) trailed by 11 late in the game, but surged right back into it with a 8-0 run to pull within three with 4:18 to go. ASU (12-3. 3-1) halted the Cougar comeback right in its tracks, delivering a 6-0 run for the knockout blow.
ASU could seemingly do nothing wrong in the first four minutes of play. Every tough shot taken by ASU was rewarded by the rim with the home roll and in. The Cougars kept pace, but turnovers anchored the Cougars down. WSU turned the ball over to ASU six times in the first eleven minutes, including twice in their own side of the court. Warren Washington continuously beat WSU defensively, starting the game hitting his first eight shots for an early 16 points.
With the lead teetering on the brink of getting out of hand in the first half, the threes began to fall for the Cougars. D.J. Rodman and Justin Powell knocked home back-to-back threes to keep the ASU lead at seven. Powell stayed hot with a filthy step back and T.J. Bamba cut the lead to five with a bucket inside. Dylan Darling came up with a clutch steal in the backcourt, leading to an and-one to cut ASU’s lead to just two. The Sun Devils escaped with two buckets before the break to take a 42-36 lead into the half. With how good the Sun Devils had played on both ends, the Cougars felt fortunate to be down only six.
Smith made adjustments at half by starting Darling in place of the first half starter Andre Jakimovski. Washington finally missed his first shot of the game two minutes into the second half, trying to go underneath, around the rim and attempting to dunk over the defending Mouhammed Gueye. Despite Washington’s first miss, ASU made up for it with a handful of incredible makes. The Sun Devils as a whole knocked down every tough jumper, runner, floater. You name it, the Devils probably made it. The Cougars never let the scorching Sun Devils take full control of the game, matching the Devils’ runs with runs of their own.
While the Cougars kept ASU from taking full command of the game, they couldn’t chip into the lead either, resulting in a stalemate for most of the second half. ASU couldn’t pop the top off, never getting a lead over 12 and WSU couldn’t break through the Sun Devils wall of a seven point lead. Finally, WSU broke through. The Cougar defense kept the Sun Devils off the board for over three minutes and offensively, a Rodman layup proceeded a pair of Mullins threes to cut the 11 point lead to just three with four minutes to go.
Trailing by just a possession, the Cougar comeback mobile couldn’t accelerate to the finish line. After back-to-back empty possessions from the Cougs, ASU all but put the game away with a 6-0 run to push the lead right back up to nine, erasing all of WSU’s progress for the Sun Devils 12th victory of the season.
Last season, WSU didn’t lose their 10th game of the year until game 24. It took just 10 less games to reach that mark this year. It’s a testament to just how hard the road has been so far for the Cougars, who boast the 16th hardest schedule according to KenPom.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Cougars as they head down I-10 to Tucson to face off with the #5 Arizona Wildcats on Saturday afternoon.