Devils Falter Down the Stretch, lose to USC in OT

The script of this game, at least for the most part, was eerily similar to the UCLA one on Thursday. A second half double-digit deficit, a furious Sun Devils comeback, and a game sent to overtime. However, tonight it was ASU who couldn't hold on to their lead at the end of regulation, as well as not play well in the extra frame. A golden opportunity to vault in the Pac-10 standings was wasted as the Devils fell to the Trojans 93-84.

An Errick Craven three-point play gave USC an early 11-7 lead at the 15:40 mark of the first half. Long-range baskets by Kevin Kruger and Jamal Hill helped ASU gain a 15-11 advantage with 13:25 left in the half. Craven and Desmon Framer responded with some offense of their own, and gave the Trojans a 27-23 edge at the 7:24 mark. The Sun Devils fell into a deeper funk, and the visitors capitalized and went down to the locker room with a 43-32 lead.

In the opening minutes of the second half, Ike Diogu picked up his third and fourth fouls, but USC wasn't able to increase their lead as he left the game. ASU trailed 50-38 at the 15:31 mark, but most of its comeback took place with their star on the bench. Kruger and Will Fameni brought their team within three, 64-61 with 7:15 remaining in the contest. Minutes later, Diogu is inserted into the game, which helps the Devils grab a 68-67 lead at the 3:46 mark. Steve Moore's three pointer with 1:50 left gave ASU a 71-69 edge, and when this 83.3% free throw shooter went to the line in the subsequent possession, it seemed all but certain that the Sun Devils were going to sweep the L.A. schools. However, he missed both attempts and Kruger, another 80 plus percent free throw shooter, made only one out of two down the stretch. On the Trojans' last possession the Devils failed to box out, and Jeff McMillan's tip-in tied the game at 74-74. ASU couldn't set up an effective play on their last possession, as Moore's desperation three-point attempt fell short.

In overtime, Diogu fouled out at the 3:44 mark as USC enjoyed a slim 76-74 lead. Justin Allen made one of two from the charity stripe to keep ASU close 79-77 with 1:37 left in the period. Nevertheless, Farmer's 12 overtime points, along with McMillan's fine play down low widened the gap en route to the eventual victory.

Diogu, who scored his first basket with 9:06 left in the half, paced the Sun Devils with 19 points and nine rebounds. Kruger had a career high 16 points, including a game high four three point baskets. Jason Braxton had a game high seven assists to go along with his 14 points. Moore was the only other ASU in double figures with 11. The Devils were ice cold from the field at 37.1%, and were out rebounded 47-41. Errick Craven had 26 points for USC, and Framer added 25 points.

"I thought in the second half our guys fought hard enough to put themselves in a position to win the basketball game," said coach Rob Evans. "At that particular point you have to make enough plays to win a basketball game, and we didn't make enough plays. We missed easy baskets, free throws…that we made the other night that allowed us to win the basketball game."

Many wondered why Evans didn't call for a timeout prior to his team's last possession in regulation. "We had two timeouts left," he stated, "and I thought about taking a timeout. We were in the same situation two days ago, and we had momentum. I didn't want to give them (USC) a chance to set up their defense. We had the right guys in there. We wanted them to attack the basket. Stevie (Moore) settled for the three (point shot). That's hindsight. We executed the play on Thursday night in the same situation. I felt confident with the people we had in there." Evans added that the lack of patience in his team's play, manifested itself with poor shot selection, and ultimately prevented ASU from wining in regulation.

There was much hope that the comeback win against UCLA will infuse life into this ASU team. Needless to say that Saturday night's performance did nothing to support that notion. The Sun Devils' slim chances to qualify for the Pac-10 tournament now hinge on a tough road trip to the sate of Oregon. On Thursday ASU will meet fellow cellar dweller Oregon State. Keeping in mind that the game against Oregon poses a much stiffer challenge, it would behoove ASU to get the victory against the Beavers and hold the tiebreaker when it comes to the jockeying in the conference standings.

Sparky's Sundries Call it Valentine's Day karma, but on the same night that Kevin Kruger scored his career high in points, he had seven attractive "Krugeretts" in attendance supporting his last name, along with a heart sign, on their shirts…On the other hand, some may argue that bad karma existed on Saturday when the person in the Sparky's suit was the same one who usually occupies Arizona Cardinals' "Big Red" mascot…The chants by the student section of "Watts…Watts", directed at the USC bench, reeked from racial undertones, and was uncalled for to say the least…

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