Dolphins stun Devils at home

The NIT will never be confused for the NCAA tournament, but the ending of the ASU-Jacksonville game evoked memories a classic March Madness upset. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, they were the favorite team who endured the loss. The Dolphins' leading scorer Ben Smith banked a deep three pointer with 1.9 seconds left leading to the 67-66 upset in Tempe and ending ASU's 2009-10 campaign.

"It was a difficult way to lose (the game) and to end the season," said ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek. "It doesn't take away from the season our guys had, but you have to give Jacksonville a lot of credit for making the play at the end."

Up 60-49 with just under four minutes left in the game, it seemed as if Arizona State (22-11) would be able to ultimately hold off a pesky Jacksonville (20-12) squad and survive the first round of the NIT.

However, the hosts wouldn't score a field goal the rest of the way, in addition to missing three free throws, and to make matter worse committed two turnovers during out of bounds plays in the last minute of the game. Collectively, all those shortcomings gave the visitors all the leeway they needed for an improbable victory.

"I just don't think we made good decisions," commented Sendek regarding his team's giveaways. "We really rushed on that last (out of bounds play). It happened in a blur and we just didn't take care of the ball. We made very hasty decisions.

"We didn't play our best again, but give Jacksonville a lot of credit. They had a lot to do with that."

Even though ASU did a solid job defensively in the first half, limiting Jacksonville to just 28.6 percent shooting, their ten turnovers in that period allowed the visitors to be at arm's length, trailing just 28-24 at the half.

The Sun Devils held onto their lead for all but the last three seconds of the second stanza, the Dolphins press defense hindered ASU, who scored just five points from the 9:17 to the 3:59 mark of the second half, along with another nine turnovers in the last twenty minutes of the game.

Jacksonville shot at a 60 percent clip from the field, as they poured in 43 points in the second half.

"They made plays and we didn't," said ASU guard Jamelle McMillan. "They got great guards that got to the paint, which has been giving us a lot of problems all year. They made their shots at the end. Unfortunately, we couldn't get a good shot off in the last three and half minutes. Their shots fell and ours didn't.

"It's a high energy group that we played against. They made it extremely difficult. They got into our rhythm a little bit. Offensively, they made it hard for us to get good looks both from the inside and outside. When they were able to disrupt the team's flow like that, and run guys off their shots, they gave themselves a chance and took advantage of it."

"Derek (Glasser) makes that free throw we tie and go to overtime. You never know what happens. If I make my free throw it's a tie game. Give (Jacksonville) a lot of credit. He (Smith) scored 23 in the second half, took care of business and led his team to a very deserving win."

Rihards Kuksiks paced ASU with 21 points, 16 of them coming in the second half, and converting 5 of 9 shots beyond the arc. McMillan scored all his 10 points in the second half. Boateng tied the two aforementioned players with six rebounds each and had 11 points. Ty Abbott had 15 points and six turnovers.

Ben Smith led all players on the floor with 26 points. His Dolphins squad controlled the glass grabbing 35 rebounds to the Sun Devils' 30, including 12 offensive caroms.

This loss to Jacksonville comes on the heels of a 70-61 defeat at the hands of Stanford in the opening round of the Pac-10 tournament, a game that effectively dashed any hopes ASU had to be in the field of 65.

"The last two games have probably been the toughest in my career here," admitted McMillan. "We didn't take care of business and as a consequence we have to deal with this."

After being one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament, followed by the loss to the Dolphins, ASU's performance naturally begs the question whether the sense of disappointment was too much for the maroon and gold to overcome which subsequently may have led to Tuesday's night loss.

"I think so," confessed McMillan. "For the guys to bounce back mentally for a game like this and being in the position that we are in…for the most part we played a very good game. Early we were able to get some stops and somewhat controlled them when they went on their runs.

"We had our moments. We had our chances to put the game away and we weren't able to do that. When you don't capitalize anything is possible."

Sendek cited lack of execution, not motivation as the team's downfall tonight.

"I thought our preparation was really good," commented Sendek. "The guys had a great shoot around…I didn't think guys were going through the motions. We didn't put it away the right way. There's no question about it. If we make our free throws, if we have a couple of better press offense situations, then we're not having that conversation.

"Obviously disappointing end tonight, but really a terrific season.

For McMillan and his returning teammates, the focus naturally has to shift in a hurry for next year.

"We have to bounce back," said McMillan, "have a great off-season and come back next year and have a good year."

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