"Obviously Pepperdine was really on fire shooting the basketball," said head coach Herb Sendek. "They came out and really hurt us from behind the arc and although they didn't get as many threes once we switched to our man to man, I thought the bank shot at the end of the shot clock kind of typified what we were experiencing with their shooting."
The Sun Devils, who traditionally have played strictly a zone-orientated defense under Sendek, found early, limited success with the man to man change. Arizona State was able to force Pepperdine into 15 turnovers for the game, while also getting nine blocked shots against the Waves in the paint, but still found themselves making costly mistakes in crucial moments.
"Obviously we're a zone team and that's our defense, but based on what was happening in the game, we made the switch," commented Sendek. "I thought that it worked rather well for us. I thought our guys did a pretty good job in it. Probably more than anything else we shot ourselves in the foot a number of times.
"The shot clock was under ten seconds and we would foul. We sent them to the line unnecessarily and that was our Achilles heal in the man to man more than anything."
Pepperdine made nearly as many free throws Tuesday night , 22-31, as the Sun Devils attempted, 23. In one of their only bright spots of the game though, Arizona State was able to connect on 17 of those 23 attempts, nearly 74%.
Ultimately the Sun Devils were undone by their inability to sustain any offensive momentum until the game's closing moments. Despite Trent Lockett's game-high 23 points, to go along with 9 rebounds, the team sputtered, shooting only 34% from the field and an even worse 7-27 from three point range as they tried digging out of their early hole.
"They play a pretty much basic 2-3 zone and it certainly helps if you can zing some shots in like they did against ours," remarked Sendek. "We didn't do that with any degree of regularity and we didn't score inside. It didn't seem like anything came easy for us on offense."
Carrick Felix chipped in 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists to help try to restore some energy to the Sun Devil offense, as did point guard Chris Colvin who added 8 points and 4 assists and 2 rebounds. That same success was not matched down low as three Sun Devil big men came up short. Kyle Cain, who did have a game-high 10 rebounds, Jordan Bachynski and Ruslan Pateev combined to score only 9 points in 42 total minutes, adding to the team's failures.
"I think we were limited to three baskets inside even though that was clearly a point of emphasis for us going into the game," explained a frustrated Sendek. "I think we've got to make plays and we've got to make shots and we've got to score when we get the ball inside. I thought we had some open looks from three that we passed up. Again, I don't know if we're real comfortable on offense right now as a team."
In a desperate attempt to jump-start the offense, Sendek inserted freshman walk-on Max Heller late in the first half, bringing back shades of last year when he hoped seldom-used Marcus Jackson would motivate now sophomore Keala King and Jamelle MacMillan to step up their respective games. King, who despite being off to a better start this season, only had one point Tuesday. After the game, Sendek said he likes what he's seen from Heller, and may look to him again if the offense continues to stall.
"Max has been doing a good job in practice," Sendek stated. "He moves the ball and he hits the open man. He's a smart player and he talks and we just felt like we needed some ball movement and needed somebody who was going to get out there and get the ball moving for us and he does that well and he's consistently had a real positive assist to turnover ratio in practice. I thought he gave us some good minutes tonight, I really did."