Broncos Edge Devils in Tournament Final

Missed free throws. How many times have Sun Devil fans shake their heads in disgust over this deficiency? Sure enough, this seemingly popular Achilles heal once again reared its ugly head in ASU's 81-76 loss to Western Michigan.

For the first thirty minutes of the game, the Sun Devils were in command of the game. The visitors scored their first points at the 15:46 mark of the first half ending a 7-0 run by the home team. A three-point play by Jason Braxton gave ASU a 17-10 lead with 11:53 left in the half. Ike Diogu was sent to the line 11 times in this period, and after a three-point play of his own, the Devils were ahead 30-21 at the 6:56 mark. A Stevie Moore long-range basket put ASU's lead briefly in double digits 35-25 with 3:55 left in the half. However, the visitors chipped away at the deficit, and went down to the locker room trailing only 41-37.

In the second half ASU was able to increase its a lead a bit, and at the 11:57 mark of the second half they topped Western Michigan 59-50. The Broncos' Mike Williams scored eight points to ignite a 10-1 run to tie the game 60-60 with 9:04 left in the contest. Ben Reed's jumper grants his team their first lead of the game 64-62 at the 7:47 mark. ASU's 13 misses from the charity stripe prevented them from reclaiming the lead down the stretch. A three-point basket by Moore cut the lead to 77-76 in the last minute of the game. However, Braxton who missed four straight free throws in the last 60 seconds, in addition to committing a turnover, negated Moore's efforts. Western Michigan held on for the win, and 2003 ends with quite a damper for the maroon and gold faithful.

Diogu paced ASU with 30 points and ten boards. He made all of his 11 free throws in the first half, but was only 7-12 in the second half. The team's inability to give him many touches in the waning moments of the game, probably contributed just as much as the charity stripe struggles. Moore was the only other Sun Devil in double figures with 15. Braxton's 4-11 shooting from the free throw line and five turnovers negated his positive play in the first half.

The first twenty minutes saw ASU shot the ball at a 57.1% clip from the field, and 83.3% from the line. However, as the game ended those percentages dipped to 44.7% and 66% respectively. The Devils won the rebound battle 40-35, but could obviously not overcome their 18 turnovers in the game. The Broncos' Ben Reed led all scorers with 36 points.

Following the game Coach Evans gave the victors full credit for their accomplishment. "Western Michigan was the better team tonight," said Evans. "They were a tougher team, more aggressive, and their experience showed on the court tonight. I thought our guys fought hard, but we made way too many mistakes to beat a good team like Western Michigan."

On his squad's failure to give Diogu more touches, he commented: "We were trying to get more looks at him, and run sets to get the basketball to him. We didn't accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish. We got the ball to him quite a bit during the game, but as much down the stretch as we liked to." Evans did dismiss any notions of Diogu being frustrated at the lack of his offensive involvement during the second half.

The ASU coach did address the game's free throw struggles. "In some other games we made free throws, nobody mentions it when we made them. It always bites you when you don't make them, and certainly tonight we didn't make them. It goes back to being a mentally tough team, and we weren't mentally tough to win tonight."

Looking ahead to Arizona and the beginning of conference play, Evans said: "We have to continue to get better to beat the teams in this league. Practically every team in this league will be as good or better than Western Michigan. The Pac-10 is a young league, but they're growing up."

"It's difficult for me for someone to score 36 points on me," continued Evans. "If I don't have guys that can defend and stop guys, like the one tonight…we're gonna see better people than him on Saturday."

An old saying in the world of theatre states that when the dress rehearsal fails, the opening night is a success. If that adage materializes for the Sun Devils, then this last test before conference play may not be the prelude to a potential debacle against Arizona on Saturday. 2003 ended on a somber and painful note. In a few days, the Sun Devil fans hope that the start of 2004 will be more promising.

Sparky's Sundries In the tournament's consolation game Winthrop beat San Diego 70-66…kudos go out to their players for sharing their post game pizzas with the ASU student section…there was no red flag thrown on the court, but the officials did review the monitor on the scorer's table to determine if a first half missed Diogu dunk was interfered with. The ruling was against ASU…When ASU lead 59-50 in the second half; Allen Morill recorded his fourth foul. The coaches benched him for a few minutes, and his exit from the game did decrease the defensive intensity of the Devils.

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