Ducks Rally Past Sun Devils
By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com
EUGENE, Ore. -- Sun Devil men's basketball head coach Rob Evans traveled to the Pacific Northwest this weekend with hopes of turning the corner, but in less than six minutes, things unraveled for his team faster than the water flowing down the nearby Willamette River.
ASU missed six consecutive free throws and allowed No. 9 Oregon to score 21 unanswered points midway through the second half. Meanwhile, junior guards Luke Jackson and Luke Ridnour combined for 42 points, 30 of which came after the break, to help lift the Ducks to a 94-73 victory over the Sun Devils before a capacity crowd of 9,087 at McArthur Court.
'We felt like our team is as good as anybody in this league, so we felt like we had a chance to win two games,' said Evans, whose battle-tested squad heads back to Tempe with a split in its first Pac-10 road trip of the season.
'I'm disappointed from the fact that we didn't win the ball game, but I thought our guys fought all the way through, even under some adverse conditions.'
Led by freshman forward Ike Diogu, who scored nine of his team's first 11 points en route to a career-high-tying 27, ASU (9-4, 1-1 Pac-10) showed it had enough composure to hang with the defending Pac-10 champions at one of the league's rowdiest venues.
However, Diogu played only 28 minutes while confined to the bench in foul trouble for most of the first half and poor free-throw shooting was detrimental to a team that appeared to have shored up its early-season problems. The Sun Devils were 20-for-33 (60.6 percent) from the charity stripe Saturday after making 73.3 percent (80-for-109) of their attempts during their five-game winning streak, which came to an abrupt end.
'We just really didn't focus in on making the free throws,' said Diogu, who misfired on five attempts from the line, more than he had in his previous six games combined. 'This game was a lot closer than what it says on the scoreboard.'
Diogu and senior guard Curtis Millage each knocked down a pair of three-pointers and junior swingman Jamal Hill hit own of his own in the first half to give ASU some separation. Millage's pull-up jumper on a pass from senior forward Shawn Redhage lifted the Sun Devils to a 32-22 lead with 6:08 left before intermission.
'When you get a crowd like this with 8,000 or 10,000 people in here just bouncing up and down, guys have got to settle, take their poise and execute what they want to do,' said Millage, who finished with 18 points in 37 minutes on 7-for-10 shooting from the field.
Oregon (10-2, 1-1) closed the gap to six points halftime, but ASU still clung to a five-point advantage five minutes into the second half after Millage and Diogu scored baskets on consecutive trips up court. Then, the wheels fell off and a close game suddenly turned into a blowout.
Diogu and Millage each missed a pair of shots from the charity stripe and even Redhage, a 79.2-percent career free-throw shooter, was off the mark on the front end of a one-and-one. Oregon junior center Jay Anderson scored eight of his career-high 10 points during the scoring spree with a bucket over Diogu, a three-pointer and a three-point play.
The Sun Devils pulled to within 12 points with 5:32 remaining after Millage stole the ball in the front-court and converted a lay-up on the other end. But Jackson's three-pointer on the ensuing possession again sent the crowd into a frenzy and left ASU searching for answers at Mac Court.
'There's certainly not a better environment in the conference,' said Oregon head coach Ernie Kent, whose team shot 59.6 percent (31-for-52) from inside the arc, the fourth-best mark against an Evans-coached team, and poured in 61 second-half points, the most by a Sun Devil opponent since Southern California posted 67 on March 7, 1998. 'I think there's not a betterenvironment in the country.'
GAME NOTES: ASU holds a 30-24 lead in the all-time series...The Sun Devils lost for just the fifth time in the past 27 games when leading at the half...Oregon's 94 points, which was twice as many as Oregon State scored Thursday night against ASU, were the most the Sun Devils have given up in 13 games this year...Diogu's 27 points ties the mark for the fourth mostby a freshman in school history...ASU senior forward Tommy Smith had fourassists to give him 24 in his last five games...Sun Devil senior guard KyleDodd was 2-for-3 from the field to improve to 23-for-37 (.622) on the season...Evans, who coached his 300th career game Saturday night, has a 155-145(.517) all-time record in 11 seasons at ASU and Mississippi.
UP NEXT: The Sun Devils are scheduled to continue conference play at 6:30 p.m. MST Thursday when hosting Washington at Wells Fargo Arena. That game can be seen on Fox Sports Arizona.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com.