LAS VEGAS – Whenever their run at the Pac-12 Tournament ends, Remy Martin, Alonzo Verge Jr. and Arizona State will return home to Tempe. The Sun Devils will also spend their offseason taking up residency in Washington State’s head.
After clipping WSU on Martin’s overtime buzzer-beater 11 days ago in Tempe, Verge Jr. scored 26 points and the Cougars made another late offensive error that cost them an opportunity to beat the Sun Devils, losing 64-59 in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
For the third time in the last four meetings between WSU and ASU, the final offensive possession determined which team walked out as the victor.
In a game that featured 17 lead changes, the Cougars trailed 60-59 with 11 seconds left after Verge Jr. drove through traffic and got an off-balanced runner to fall. Noah Williams took the ensuing inbound pass, broke ASU’s press and went the length of the court until he met Jaelen House near the top of the key. As Williams barreled forward, the WSU guard lost his handle on the ball and the Cougars were unable to commit a foul to stop the clock until there was one second left. Wanting a blocking foul on House, WSU coach Kyle Smith was tagged with a technical foul for throwing an open water bottle and the Sun Devils were able to polish off their opponent with four free throws.
“Noah made a good play, split it and got downhill and was just running at the rim,” Smith said. “They helped uphill and I thought there was some contact there. Should’ve been a whistle. We still have a chance if it’s a charge. I’ve got to see it. We didn’t get a foul quickly enough or get a whistle quickly enough and didn’t get an opportunity there.
“But against their pressure, I thought they did what they would do. They were just going to take him to the backcourt, try to get you on your heels and I said to just be aggressive.”
The Cougars (14-13) broke a decade-long conference tournament drought last year against Colorado but have now dropped 11 of their last 12 games at the annual event. Smith’s team won’t be able to break the Pac-12’s longest streak of years without an NCAA Tournament berth, but the second-year coach indicated the Cougars would be interested in playing more games if invited to the postseason NIT or CBI.
Williams’ turnover inside the final five seconds ultimately sent the Cougars packing, but it was one of 20 for a team that never was able to address its ball security issues in an effective manner this season. WSU committed a conference-high 15.2 per game in 2020-21 and had at least 19 in three of its final six games.
The Sun Devils finished the game with a 22-6 advantage in points off turnovers and committed seven fewer turnovers.
“Our guards have got to be better, we need a little depth there and when you play big it’s going to be an issue,” Smith said. “Our bigs are young, they need to learn how to deal with double teams and cover downs and drop-offs. They’ve got to catch them. It’s an area we really have to improve in to be any good.”
For the first time since Feb. 13, WSU’s attack was led by senior point guard Isaac Bonton, who scored 19 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field and was 3 of 7 from beyond the arc. After spraining both ankles in a mid-February game against USC, Bonton missed four of the next five games and played just 19 minutes off the bench on Feb. 25 against Arizona.
“(It was) frustrating that we just gave away one,” said Bonton, who was named to the All-Pac-12 second team on Tuesday. “We did a terrible job taking care of the ball. … Just stuff we can control. Those games are always tough. I thought we fought pretty hard, but it’s just the little things we have to do to close out those types of games, especially in the postseason.”
The Cougars held down Martin, ASU’s overtime hero in the last game, and kept the All-Pac-12 first-team selection to just six points on 2-of-10 shooting, but they let Verge Jr. go 10 of 15 from the field and sent the senior guard to the free throw line seven times. Verge’s go-ahead shot with 11 seconds left was the highlight of the game, and the Arizona native also grabbed six rebounds.
“Zo’s had a lot of practice taking those type of shots,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “I mean, he’s – and he’s a tough shot maker. That’s why we have to live and I have to live sometimes with one that you’re not pleased with, maybe just going too soon before we make the defense work enough. But at that point the game was on the line, the shot clock was winding down, and it was a one-on-one situation. He had to beat his man and then put enough loft on his shot to score it over help defense. So that was a hell of a play and in a critical moment.”
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