Since faltering against Creighton in the team's only defeat of the season, the Sun Devils had run their record to an impressive 8-1 for the first time since 2008-09, feasting mostly on inferior opponents as they found their groove. Wednesday's matchup with DePaul marked the team's biggest test since that loss and it's fair to say that the results were not good.
After jumping out to a seven point lead in the game's opening minutes, the Sun Devils quickly fell behind, struggling to find any rhythm offensively against the stifling Blue Demon full-court press while repeatedly failing to come up with defensive stops in the second half when they needed them the most.
Trailing by nine at the break, ASU fell behind by as many as 22 in the second half as the Blue Demons, led by shooting guard Brandon Young who scored a game-high 18 points to go along with 9 assists, lit up the Sun Devils by shooting 55% in the second half as they pulled away.
"They brought the energy, they brought the intensity, that's something that we didn't bring today," remarked Carrick Felix afterwards. "Obviously they were the better team tonight and we've just got a lot of stuff we need to work on."
"I don't think we were able to string any stops together whatsoever," said Head Coach Herb Sendek. "They got into the paint at will, as is reflected by their very high shooting percentage. They beat us off the dribble. They beat us curling screens and just, I thought they really had their way with us when they had the ball."
The Blue Demons asserted themselves as the dominant team early on, out-rebounding the Sun Devil 44-34, including 12 offensive rebounds, while routinely beating Arizona State to seemingly every loose ball. Their defense in the second half limited the Sun Devils to just 40% shooting from the field, derailing the upstart offense the team had featured in its first nine games of the season.
"They fought for loose balls, they dove for loose balls," said Felix. "They were intense on energy from the tip-off and after about the 15 minute mark in the first half I think our energy decreased and theirs elevated."
"We lost track of some of the possessions, lost track of some of our guys and we definitely weren't playing ASU basketball," he added. "That's something we've got to get back into tomorrow. We'll talk about and capitalize on it, but DePaul played a hell of a game tonight."
The Sun Devils were led by Felix, along with Jahii Carson and Evan Gordon, all of whom finished with 12 points. After getting out to an early lead, the Sun Devils were slowed by the Blue Demons' full-court pressure defense, forcing the ball out of Carson's hands. The result was a stagnant Sun Devil offense consisting of wasted possessions and contested jump shots. Arizona State shot just 3-15 from three-point territory and DePaul used a 15-4 run midway through the first half to seize control of the contest.
"Different teams, different guards, different quicknesses," said Carson about the team's struggles to match up tenacity of the Blue Demons on both ends of the floor. "A guy's going to come up on me 90 feet, I'm going to go past him. Same thing with a guy who's just as fast as me; I've got to give him more room, more arm space and just try to keep him in front. Some of the guys hit jump shots who weren't even jump shooters, so they just definitely came in and they were feeling it tonight."
Perhaps just as alarming as anything else on Wednesday night was the continued struggles at the free throw line for the Sun Devils. Despite attempting six free throws on their first three possessions of the game, the Sun Devils were only able to convert three of them, and just 8-19 for the night, quickly diffusing any momentum they looked to gain as the game wore on.
"We've got to just continue to work on our free throws," said Felix. "That's something that we've obviously got to work on our own time; during practice, after practice. That's something that's going to come down to winning games, that and turnovers. It's always the little things; it's never the big plays, the highlight plays. It's always the little things; 50-50 balls, turnovers, making free throws that win games and definitely DePaul brought that tonight."