DENVER – Heading into tipoff against sixth-seeded Texas Christian University, No. 11 seed Arizona State remained the only team from its home state left in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, following Grand Canyon’s loss in the previous game and the upset of the University of Arizona a day earlier.
Although the ASU maroon and gold throughout the crowd was sparse, the two words at center court – “March Madness” – would describe the Sun Devils’ performance in Friday night’s 72-70 loss.
Wearing their all-black road uniforms, coming off a historic victory over Nevada in Dayton just two days earlier, not much went right at first for ASU after Warren Washington won the opening tip.
“It’s tough, man. I love these guys, went to war with them every game, and I felt like we all played for each other,” Washington said. “Everybody wanted to win on this team, and that’s what I love, man. Yeah, it’s rough, obviously, and that’s just the way it is. We’re all competitors. It’s going to be tough right now, but it’s going to pass, and we’re going to get through it.”
The ball was stolen by TCU after Washington’s first touch and the Horned Frogs scored seven points before the first Arizona State basket from Frankie Collins. The deficit continued until nearly the halfway point of the first half when the lead continued to shift back and forth before the Devils built a seven-point lead by halftime.
“Arizona State was unbelievable, especially in that first half,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said. “They played like they did the other day, and we withstood a barrage of tough shots that they made. We talked about that they could do that, and they did.”
Though the crowd’s presence was noticeable in the first half, the intensity and frequency of their cheers grew immensely in the final 20 minutes. Those who made the trip from Tempe roared to life as the Cambridge brothers put on a show about four minutes into the second half when Devan slammed a highlight-reel dunk followed by a layup from Desmond to put ASU ahead by 11, tied for the highest lead of the night. The resilient Horned Frogs fought back to tie the game, and the lead would sway back and forth before the final horn.
“I’m just heartbroken for these guys, giving me everything they had all year,” said Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley. “Just really advanced Arizona State basketball and played winning basketball all year, played unselfishly, played resilient, battled and fought. It would take the last shot to put us away.”
Heartbreak was in fact the way the season came to an end. A multitude of fouls called throughout the second half put both teams in the double bonus with over four minutes of game time remaining. With the score tied in the final minute, TCU went ahead by three on foul shots followed by a clutch 3-pointer from DJ Horne to tie it again.
“Coach put the ball in my hands with the time we had left in the game, and I just felt confident that I could bring my defender down and get a good shot,” Horne said. “I wanted to do it with some time left on the clock in case I did miss, give us another look at it before the time ran out.”
The final dagger came on a jump shot from Jakobe Coles with two seconds left. The Devils elected not to use their final timeout, forcing Collins to take a three-quarter court heave which fell short and ended the contest.
“I thought about it as the ball was flying through the air when Frankie had it,” Hurley said. “That one you can put on me because I knew I had a time-out, and maybe we could have threw it to half-court and flipped it to a guard and they would have taken a dribble and gotten about 20 feet closer.”
In a game that could have gone either way, considering 12 lead changes throughout, Hurley’s squad led for 25 minutes. TCU was able to score 17 points off ASU’s 13 turnovers.
Despite finishing sixth in the Pac-12 to end the regular season, Arizona State finished with a record of 23-13, tied for the most wins in a season in Bobby Hurley’s tenure with 2018-19, which end with a 23-11 record and a first-round NCAA tournament loss. The two 23-win campaigns are the best since a 25-10 season in 2008-09 under Herb Sendek.
“You saw us win the way we did against Nevada. We’ve had huge comeback wins,” Hurley said. “We’ve won a lot of close games this year, just it didn’t work out for us tonight. But that was an exciting game. That’s what Arizona State basketball looks like.”
Despite the inevitable loss of Desmond Cambridge Jr. and Warren Washington, whose eligibility expired after this season, there is potential for a return to the tournament next season with a strong core of returning players, should they choose to stay in Tempe.
Key players from last year’s team took a back seat to newcomers from the transfer portal, but their hard work did not go unnoticed by the coaching staff. Hurley mentioned the struggles of Luther Muhammad and Alonzo Gaffney in stretches of the year, but admired their resilience and willingness to contribute in tough situations when the team needed it most.
Reinforcing the remaining roster with talented freshmen, similar to how Duke Brennan and Austin Nunez made significant contributions this year, as well as working the portal to replace the missing pieces, could allow the Sun Devils to partake in the madness of March next year.