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ASU Men's Basketball Vs. Fresno State: Depleted Devils Lose Third Straight Close Game

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. 

Keala King scored 22 points and Trent Lockett 17 for ASU, which led 38-21 and trailed 53-46 before taking a 65-64 lead with 38 seconds left on Cain's three-point play.

"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.