Free Throws Doom ASU in BYU Loss

Coach Rob Evans calls it lack of mental toughness. Sun Devils fans call it a cruel case of Déjà vu. Both must be talking about one topic only – ASU's struggles at the free throw line. So far this season, the Sun Devils were able to skate by with this deficiency. Tonight, its 5-15 free throw shooting came back to bite them in the backside in a close 64-60 defeat to the Cougars.

The visitors from Provo, enjoying the support of several hundred fans in the stands, virtually led the whole game. With 15:52 left in the first half they opened a slight 10-7 lead. Unlikely contributions from Kyle Dodd and Jamal Hill helped the home team tie the score at 18-18 at the 11:13 mark. For the next nine minutes ASU went stone cold on offense, as BYU went on a 14-4 run leading by double digits 32-22, and going down to the locker room with a 35-25 margin. In the first 20 minutes the visitors shot a remarkable 66.7% from the field, and 77.8% from the charity stripe. ASU's 33.3% and 37.5% hardly helped them keep pace. After trading baskets for the first five minutes of the second half, the Devils were able to chip away at the BYU lead. Hill and Curtis Milage helped their team bring down the score to 47-41 at the 11:30 mark. A Tommy Smith free throw help tie the game at 58-58 with 3:10 left in the game. The missed free throws prevented the Sun Devils from ever retaking the lead in the second half, and their lack of offense produced only two points in the last three minutes of the contest.

Ike Diogu led four Sun Devils in double figures with 15 points, and tied Smith for the team high with eight rebounds. Smith scores 13 points, and his 5-15 field goal shooting didn't help matters to say the least. Ironically his 3-6 free throw shooting was the best among his teammates. Hill probably had his finest game as a Sun Devil with 12 points on 5-7 shooting, including 2-3 from behind the arc. Milage also had a 5-15 night from the field while knocking down 11 points.

ASU's 33.3% free throw shooting isn't the only telling stat of the game. Despite holding BYU to 37.5% field goal shooting in the last twenty minutes, the Cougars still ended up with a 51.1% field goal shooting for the contest. BYU held a 37-32 edge on the boards, and won despite their 21 turnovers.

Coach Evans was visibly frustrated in his post-game press conference. "In the first half they (BYU) out fought us. When they shoot 66.7% that means we weren't guarding anybody. In the second half we competed and did a good job, but we had a small margin for error after the first half. We can't just play one half."…(On missing all those free throws) "It's mental toughness. I can't understand why we went 5-15. We practice free throws every possible way. This thing hurts you in close games, and that's why you don't win them. We can't just give them the lead and not do the small things."

Up next for ASU is their first true road game – a matchup against Utah in Salt Lake City on Saturday. Since both teams played each other just last week in the Maui Invitational, one can wonder who will benefit more from this feeling of familiarity. In that game the Sun Devils had a miserable time at the line, but were able to overcome it for an overtime win. Something tells us that if this ugly trend reveals its ugly head in a few days, ASU may not be so lucky this time around.

Sparky's Sundries Austin Ainge, former Gilbert High School and son of ex NBA great Danny Ainge was on the Cougar bench. Ainge is redshirting this year, and had his parents watching on from the visitors section…Granted, ASU has no one to blame but itself for the loss, but the trio of referees headed by the notorious Dave Libbey (who once unfairly tossed ASU's Basketball Sports Information representative) did their part to frustrate the crowd with questionable calls (and non-calls)…The student section was able to interject some humor into this gloomy display of Basketball. When BYU's Travis Hansen was at the line, it chanted "Marshall Mathers." identifying Hansen's uncanny resemblance to the rapper also known as Eminem…Another comical theme through out the night was the collective grunts from the Sun Devil crowd each time one of the home team players was fouled and forced to go to the unkind free throw line. If the crowd had its way, it would probably want every BYU foul to result in an ASU throw-in from the sideline…

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