LOS ANGELES — The Arizona State men’s basketball team had one last chance to further its cause for the NCAA postseason. The opponent came in the form of a USC team ahead of ASU in most projections with the benefit of playing on its home floor, making the game all the more important.
It was the Trojans further cementing their situation and the Sun Devils falling further off the bubble as USC prevailed 68-65 Saturday night in the regular season finale for both teams at the Galen Center. ASU had a chance to tie the game in its last possession but a 3-pointer by D.J. Horne rimmed out as the buzzer sounded.
The outcome means Sun Devils (20-11, 11-9) will be the No. 6 seed for the conference tournament which begins on Wednesday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Their opponent will be No. 11 Oregon State, who they have defeated twice although the games were close. It will be the last of four games on the day, starting at 9:30 (MT).
Heading into the weekend ASU had the potential to be as high as fourth, which would have meant a first round bye, or as low as seventh.
By the time they took the court Saturday night, the picture had clearly been laid out with the other key conference games already completed. Oregon’s win over Stanford meant ASU could not be No. 4, even if it won, because it lost the tiebreaker to the Ducks.
The loss put ASU in a tie for fifth with idle Washington State but the Sun Devils lose the tiebreaker with Washington State, thus settling for the sixth seed. Since the teams split on the regular season the second tiebreaker is how the teams fared against the top team, and on down. Both teams lost to UCLA twice and split with Arizona. So the factor would be how they fared against No. 3 USC. ASU lost both games while Washington State split.
The biggest issue the Sun Devils had in their most recent outing was poor shooting as they made only 19-for-65 from the field (29.2%). They shot 22.6% (7-for-31) in a first half that ended with the Trojans (22-9, 14-6) leading 29-20.
The Sun Devils found themselves down 59-45 with 6:23 left but fought their way back into the game the same way they have in other similar games, with their defense. They forced 15 turnovers, scoring 17 points off those.
A 3-pointer by Frankie Collins with 1:04 left cut the deficit to 64-62 and later scored on a driving layup to cut it to 65-64.
The home team later led 67-64 with 14.9 seconds to go. On ASU’s next try Collins hoisted up a shot that came close, but bounced out. He was fouled on the play and the referee first ruled it was a 3-point try. But after a review it was ruled a 2-point try. Collins made one of two to set the stage for yet another dramatic finish.
ASU had to foul and sent Joshua Morgan to the line. He made the first and missed the second with ASU’s Warren Washington grabbing the rebound with 6.5 seconds left and ASU having no timeouts.
Horne had a clean look but the shot didn’t fall.
ASU was led by D.J. Horne who tallied 20, his third game of 20 or more points. Washington posted his second double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds but he was just 3-of-11 from the field.
Boogie Ellis led USC with 28 points, five rebounds and three assists.
For the third straight game ASU was without the services of freshman guard Austin Nunez who is dealing with a concussion sustained in the 67-59 win over Utah on Feb. 18. Nunez did make the trip with the team however.