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TEMPE -- Christmas might not be so merry for Arizona State men's basketball and Sun Devils fans. Not after the Devils lost a 17-point lead they had just before halftime and went more than 10 minutes with a made basket in the second half against Fresno State. The Sun Devils let a halftime lead slip away yet again and lost 68-65, making it four losses in a row in which they've led at the break.
In the end, Wednesday's last game before the Christmas holiday came down to the wire, just like each of the previous three contests for ASU. The Devils just couldn't stop 6-2 guard Kevin Olekaibe, who dropped 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting including six threes. Olekaibe's three-ball with 30 seconds to play was the winning basket for the Bulldogs.
Afterward, ASU coach Herb Sendek was fuming. "We had plenty of opportunities to play better during the game," he said, labeling the Devils' second-half defense "despicable."
Then Sendek apologized to the fans who attended the game.
Fresno State shot 54.5 percent for the game, the highest total in the past 44 ASU games dating back to the Pac-10 tournament in March 2010.
Dealing with a depleted roster -- ASU was without center Ruslan Pateev, suspended one game for his role in a fight Monday against Southern Mississippi, and guard Chanse Creekmur left the game early with a sprained left ankle -- was also a factor. That and the scoring drought added up to a third straight loss and fourth in five games for the struggling Sun Devils (4-8).
Two of the Devils' bigs asked to play a bigger role in Pateev's absence, Kyle Cain and Jordan Bachynski, got into foul trouble and played much of the second half with four fouls each. Fresno State (5-8) snapped a four-game losing streak, Olekaibe scoring 21 of his points in the second half.
Ah, the resiliency of young people. Two days after a crushing loss at the buzzer to Southern Miss and four days after a real downer, a gut-wrenching last-second loss to Northern Arizona (both at home), the Sun Devils were out to make sure there would be no doubt near the end. Only there was, and ASU was on the short end again.
The Sun Devils went from shooting nearly 58 percent from the field in the first half to less than 32 in the second. They were outscored 42-27 in the second half.
"Our energy is not where it needed to be," Lockett said. "That's pretty unacceptable losing a 17-point lead and then losing the game."
Chris Colvin, a junior guard who played just two minutes against NAU and none against both North Dakota State on Dec. 10 and Southern Miss, got 31 minutes Wednesday. He recorded seven assists and did not score.
King showed he is clearly the straw that stirs the Devils' drink, taking the most shots (14)and handling the ball when Colvin wasn't in the game, or sharing the duty when he was. ASU made 16 of 18 foul shots.
A crowd of 4,552 watched the last ASU game until Dec. 31, the Pac-12 opener at Arizona.
Arizona State's Ruslan Pateev has been reprimanded by the Pac-12 and suspended one game, per NCAA Basketball Playing Rules, for his part in an altercation on the court during ASU's Monday night loss against Southern Mississippi with Torye Pelham. The junior center will be forced to miss the Sun Devils' next game on Wednesday vs Fresno State.
Pateev was ejected from Monday's game after being assessed a Flagrant 2 Technical Foul for fighting. If he receives another Flagrant 2 Tech this year, he'd be suspended for the remainder of the season. Per a Pac-12 press release, Commissioner Larry Scott said:
"All of our student-athletes must adhere to the Pac-12's policies on Sportsmanship and Standards of Conduct, which call for our student athletes to treat opponents with respect and create and ensure a collegiate atmosphere in which to conduct competition. In addition to not adhering to the Conference rules, Mr. Pateev's actions were a clear violation of the NCAA Playing Rules and he is being appropriately penalized by serving a one-game suspension."
TEMPE -- Another day, another three-pointer by another team to sink the Sun Devils at the end of the game.
Forward Darnell Dodson drained a three at the buzzer after Arizona State had tied the game with five seconds left, giving Southern Mississippi a 64-61 win over ASU Monday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
The key stat of the game was an 18-5 deficit on the offensive boards, USM dominating with hustle after missed shots.
"The single biggest factor was their offensive rebounding," coach Herb Sendek said. "We had a hard time with their athleticism and size."
ASU (4-7) let a nine-point halftime lead dissipate in the second half as Southern Miss outscored the Sun Devils 43-31in the half.
A TV audience saw Southern Miss (9-2) heat up late in the second half after shooting only 23.3 percent in the first half, with a barrage of three-pointers that gave the Golden Eagles a 54-43 lead with 4:49 to play.
The Sun Devils could have used this win, their non-conference season a disappointment. They cut the lead to two, 60-58, with 57.6 seconds left, missed free throws by Southern Miss keeping ASU in the game near the end.
ASU had a chance to tie down 61-58, but Chanse Creekmur missed a baseline three with 17 seconds left. The Devils had one more chance to tie down two with five seconds left, and King hit two free throws to pull it even. Then USM got the ball to Dodson, who scored all 17 of his points in 15 minutes of action, for the winner.
ASU lost to Northern Arizona by one on a three with one second left.
"The NAU loss was a tough loss," guard Trent Lockett said. "If we don't do it, who else is going to go in and keep fighting?"
Sendek labeled his team as "crestfallen" after the loss and that the players were crying in the locker room after the NAU loss.
ASU shot the ball fairly well until late in the game. The Golden Eagles took their first lead, 40-38 on a three-point play by guard Neil Watson with 8:09 to play.
Ruslan Pateev's interior defense was a factor, until he was ejected along with Southern Miss swingman Torye Pelham midway through the second half for an altercation. Pateev had four blocked shots, but Pelham took his 10 rebounds and six points with him to the locker room.
The altercation seemed to energize the Golden Eagles and not ASU, which needed a spark.
As many shots as it clanked in the first half, folks at Wells Fargo Arena might have thought that Southern Miss wasn't short for Southern Mississippi.
The Golden Eagles -- led by that one-time party animal Larry Eustachy as head coach -- made 7 of 30 shots. That's pretty bad, even in baseball.
Southern Miss was in such a funk that one point in the first half, Eustachy called a timeout mid-possession and charged out on the court to scream at forward Jonathan Mills. Then he pushed Mills back to the bench while the rest of the team huddled.
An 8-1 run to close out the half gave ASU a 30-21 lead at the intermission.
Oh yes, they were a happy bunch. The shouts of joy echoed down the halls in the bowels of Wells Fargo Arena.
They didn't come from the home team. Saturday night was Northern Arizona's time to celebrate an upset win over a Pac-12 opponent, Arizona State. NAU (4-7) had one previous win over a Division I opponent this season, Cal-State Bakersfield (which plays as an independent and is not conference-affiliated) and two wins over lower-tier opponents.
Stallon Saldivar, a steady, heady junior guard from Salt Lake City, hit the winning shot, a three-pointer with one second to play and ASU couldn't get off a shot in 0.08 seconds. The Lumberjacks won 69-68, having led only twice until the final horn.
Afterward, the buzz words about the NAU program, whose head coach Mike Adras resigned last week and was playing its second game under 70-year-old interim coach Dave Brown, were "teammates," "togetherness," and "family."
It was hard not to be happy for the kids and senior citizen coach from Flagstaff.
"It's big. It's a winning streak for us with D-I schools. The morale is unbelievable in the locker room," Saldivar said. "It's been a hell of a week for us, so we just came together and I'm just proud of...everybody."
NAU had lost it coach of 12-plus seasons and had only days earlier gotten back guard Gabe Rogers, who missed two months recovering from shoulder surgery.
Saldivar started hot and stayed hot. The six-footer established new career highs for points (24) and threes made (six) and played all 40 minutes, sinking 6 of 8 threes. He also dished out nine assists, upstaging the taller and more athletically-gifted Keala King, his counterpart at the point for ASU.
"Once I made the first one, it's kind of a confidence thing," Saldivar said. "I just felt it (Saturday)."
The Lumberjacks had less talent, size and depth. Had ASU tried to post up their taller guards more often against the shorter 'Jacks, the story might have been different. But NAU played patiently, committed just nine turnovers and tied ASU for rebounds with 27. It also won despite a 56.3 field goal percentage for the Sun Devils, the highest under coach Herb Sendek in a loss.
NAU changed up its defensive looks often, Saldivar said, which might have crossed up the Devils. It was the second win over ASU for NAU since a 75-71 win at Wells Fargo Arena in November 2006.
"We stayed with it and it was a matter of our young men believing," Brown said. "It's about a group of young men, it's about a university and it's a privilege for me to be a part of that."
Brown, who was confident with Rogers, Saldivar and James Douglas as his three best shooters on the floor in the final minutes, was downright giddy, understandably so.
"Isn't it fun?" he said with a smile. "To have some senior citizen walk into their locker room and say we're going to try to play together and become a family was an interesting phenomenon to deal with."
Losses don't get much more deflating than this one folks; the visiting Lumberjacks out-willed, out-played, and out-coached the Sun Devils Saturday night, leaving Tempe with a 69-68 upset victory thanks to Stallon Saldivar's game-winning three. There weren't many highlights for the Devils outside of Keala King and Chanse Creekmur's combined 31 points. Who really stole the show was the man who had the final shot, Saldivar, who finished with a career-high 24 points, including 6 of 8 shooting from behind the arc to go along with his nine assists.
"I thought the Northern Arizona guards really dominated the basketball game," Head Coach Herb Sendek said. "They just completely held the game in the palms of their hands."
While the Saldivar and fellow guard James Douglas (18 points, 7 of 11 shooting) did have very dominate games, this one really came down to the Devils not playing to their strengths. Despite owning a huge height advantage, the Arizona State tied the Lumberjacks in rebounds (27) and points in the paint were hard to come by.
"It was a major emphasis going into the game," Sendek said. "But we didn't get it inside very much."
To their credit, ASU tried to stick with that game plan early with Ruslan Pateev and Trent Lockett getting their first six points near the rim. But after that, the Devils fell right back into their old habits, committing 10 first half turnovers and 17 total throughout the game. Without those, this one's results might be opposite, considering the Devils did manage to shoot 56% from the field and 50% from downtown.
"We converted at a high rate when we didn't turn it over," Sendek said.
An exhausted Sendek also said in the post-game presser that "nobody like the place we're in right now" with only two more games before conference play begins. Sitting at 4-6 despite an extremely soft schedule, angst is now spreading throughout the locker room on what many fans are already calling a lost season in December.
"I'm pretty concerned," Creekmur shared. "We have to fix a lot of things; some guys have to find it in their heart and as a team we have to pull together."
Other Game Notes:
Arizona State hits the lowest point of their season in a 69-68 loss to the visiting Lumberjacks.