Sometimes it's one step forward followed by two steps backward.
Exactly one week after Arizona State had perhaps its best win of the season, a 74-63 win at San Diego State, it played poorly and lacked intensity in a 81-70 loss to New Mexico State at Wells Fargo Arena.
The loss dropped ASU to 6-5 on the season while New Mexico State improved to 10-2, with eight consecutive wins after a 2-2 start.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley wasn't even around to see the end of it.
Hurley picked up his second technical foul of the game and was ejected nearly nine minutes into the second half. Several minutes after Hurley was assessed his first technical foul, he appeared to believe junior guard Shannon Evans was hit on a three-point attempt just in front of the ASU bench.
When Hurley received the second technical foul, it happened so quickly that it wasn't even immediately clear what had happened. But then Hurley quickly raced for the tunnel to the ASU locker room and it became obvious.
"I can't just get into the body and the minds of the people that are working the game," Hurley said. "I have a right to contest calls, as the other coach did throughout the game. That's their decision on that. I handled it the way I wanted to after everything happened."
Certainly, Hurley was not only frustrated by the officiating. His team's play had a lot to do with it.
At the point Hurley was ejected, the Aggies were on a 22-9 run and had opened up a 62-47 lead, their largest of the night. They'd led by just two points at halftime, 40-38.
"We just didn't come out well on offense the first four minutes (of the second half)," Hurley said. "We had trouble scoring and that didn't help because we dug a hole for ourselves again and just had a hard time getting out of it.
"I thought we would have built off the excitement of the win (last Saturday) and just be a little more lively, a little more energetic in the first half. We were a little bit flat. We've got to do a better job of getting our guys ready to play, conveying how hard the game is going to be and standing up to it."
After Hurley had departed, the Sun Devils showed better energy, perhaps drawing from the ejection. They defended with greater vigor, had several impressive offensive rebounds and junior guard Kodi Justice even drew their first charge of the game.
ASU cut its deficit to 10 points at 66-56 with 7:21 left, and held the Aggies to just three points in a four-minute span. But then the Sun Devils had one of their worst sequences of the game, in which it gave up an uncontested corner three-pointer, had two ill-advised shots, and failed to contest a layup.
In a little more than a minute, the Sun Devils had undone their positive stretch and trailed by an unrecoverable 75-60 margin with 3:49 left.
"We tried to reground and use that to our advantage," said Evans, who had nine points and five assists by missed all five of his three-point attempts." We had a little fire and made a push but couldn't get it all the way there. I felt like they out-hustled us, they out-played us, they wanted it more, and we were relaxed and lackadaisical."
Nearly 30 minutes into the game the Sun Devils still didn't have a double figure scorer. Senior forward Obinna Oleka had 15 points and 11 rebounds to lead ASU in both categories. He entered the game averaging nearly a double-double with 11.1 points and 9.8 rebounds.
Junior Torian Graham had 14 points off the bench for the Sun Devils, but it came on 6-of-9 shooting and included at least a handful of difficult, contested field goal attempts.
The Sun Devils lack size and depth and have tended to live and die at the three-point line. They made just 4 of 19 from behind the arc on the night, which gave them virtually no chance when they also weren't paying defense nearly up to their coach's standards.
"In the first half we gave up too many transition baskets," Hurley said. "They outran us a couple times, we lost some shooters where they got some threes and in a tight game like that, can't afford to give away points."
If there was a bright spot for the Sun Devils, it was the play of redshirt freshman post Andre Adams. When freshman starter Jethro Tshisumpa picked up his second foul just three minutes into the game -- Tshisumpa ultimately had four fouls in five minutes and was scoreless -- Adams responded with his best action of the season. In the first half he had six points and two rebounds, and looked more mobile than he did just a month ago as he continues to recover from his second ACL surgery in as many years.
"I'm happy for Andre tonight, he's been through so much with the injury and he's worked hard to get himself to the point where he is now," Hurley said. "He came in, did a nice job, finished around the basket, set some screens, and the defense. For a guy that's fought through the injuries he's had, to have some success is great for him."
Meanwhile, first-year Aggies coach Paul Weir lauded his entire team's effort and unselfishness. New Mexico State, which has represented the Western Athletic Conference in the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons, had 22 assists on 28 made field goals.
“It was really good," Weir said. "We made the extra pass tonight, really throughout the game. It wasn’t even just the first half. I thought over the course of the game we did a really good job of sharing the ball and when they picked up the pressure we were making extra passes to score on the back of the press.”
ASU had just five assists in the game's second half, which followed a first period in which nine of their 16 baskets were assisted.
New Mexico State led 40-38 at the half, but one of those points was a gift for the Sun Devils that was wrapped up before the game had even started. The Aggies failed to get their official lineup submitted by the deadline, which is 10 minutes before tip off. Evans made the free throw to give ASU a 1-0 lead prior to the game-opening jump ball.