ASU chopped down by Lumberjacks

This is what it feels like when the shoe's on the other foot. Last Saturday ASU edged past North Dakota State on a last second three pointer. Today, the Sun Devils were upended by Northern Arizona, 69-68, on a Stallon Saldivar three point basket with just 0.6 seconds remaining, capping a stunning loss.

While leading by one in the game's closing moments, Arizona State positioned themselves to extend their lead by three, but junior Trent Lockett missed the backend of two free throws, giving NAU one final chance to steal a victory from the Sun Devils. The Lumberjacks used nearly every remaining second in their final possession before finding Saldivar on the right wing for the clinching three point attempt, the team's ninth of the game, as NAU fans at Wells Fargo Arena erupted in joy.

The Sun Devils, who led by only three at halftime despite first half shooting woes by the Lumberjacks, were outmatched in the second half as NAU's guard picked apart the Sun Devil defense. Sandival, who had a game-high 24 points, was aided by fellow guards James Douglas and Durrell Norman. Together the trio accounted for 58 of Northern Arizona's 69 points, helping pace the team as the shot 59% in the second half.

"I thought the Northern Arizona guards really dominated the basketball game," said Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek afterwards. "We had a difficult time defending them. They (Saldivar and Douglas) combined for 42 points on 9 threes and had ten assists. They just completely held the game in the palm of their hands.

"They were good with the ball. They were good off the dribble. They made open shots. And they made, in some cases, some challenging shots. They really did a great job. Those two guys really controlled the game. They absolutely controlled the basketball game."

The Sun Devils, who began a stretch of playing three games over the course of five days, were hoping to gain some confidence as they close-out the non-conference portion of their schedule next week before Christmas break. Instead, they gifted a win to the Lumberjacks by committing the same costly mistakes that have plagued them for most of the season; turnovers and poor defense.

The Sun Devils turned the ball over 14 times, ten of which came in the first half as they were unable to pull away from Northern Arizona despite limiting the Lumberjacks to just 33% shooting. In the second half though, ASU couldn't come up with a stop, as a seven point lead slipped away from the team as they stumbled in the end.

"Part of our deal was we just had a hard time guarding the ball," said Sendek of his team's inability to protect their lead. "They got a couple loose ball baskets and every time they made us pay."

"For us, we converted at a high rate when we didn't turn it over," he continued. "We were much better in the second half taking care of the ball, but then we left precious points at the free throw line."

"We fell apart in certain situations," guard Chanse Creekmur acknowledged. "We just couldn't put it together for some reason. We seem to always do that. They are a good shooting team, but we just didn't play good defense."

The Sun Devils struggled getting to the free throw line as a team, as only three players attempted free throws for the game. Overall, ASU converted on only 6 of their 13 attempts, despite entering the game as the Pac-12's third best free throw shooting team, making .702 of their attempts. The Sun Devils began the game looking for their big men, Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski, early and often to no avail. Instead they were led by Keala King, who filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, five rebounds, a career-high seven assists, but also five turnovers. Trent Lockett chipped in with ten points and five rebounds as well. A welcomed sign for the Sun Devils is the improved play of Creekmur though, who after breaking out of a shooting slump with a pair of three pointers last week against North Dakota State, followed it up with 15 points on five 3 point baskets.

"I just remained positive through my slump," Creekmur said, "and just went out there with confidence. I've been shooting all my life, so it's nothing new."

The Sun Devils, now just 4-6 on the season, continue to look for answers as they approach the start of Pac-12 play at the end of the month. It's a team still looking for some consistency and an identity. Coach Sendek knows he has his work cut out for him and hopes his team can use the next week to grow together.

"Nobody likes the place we're in right now," he said. "This is not a good feeling at all. We just have to play better. I don't know if it's anything strategically, we've just got to play better. We have two more challenging games before we get to conference play with very quick turnarounds."

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