PULLMAN, Wash. - What a difference a year — and a coach — has already had on the Arizona State-Washington State men’s basketball series.
The Sun Devils had defeated the Cougars by an average margin of 42 points in their three most recent meetings. But the Cougars under new coach Dick Bennett turned it completely around with a stunning 63-56 Pac-10 triumph that left the Sun Devils sharing the Pac-10 cellar with Oregon State after Thursday’s action.
"We just didn’t play very good," said ASU center Ike Diogu, who had 13 points and five rebounds, but also five turnovers and three of his shots blocked.
Indeed, the Sun Devils (8-9, 2-6 Pac-10) committed a season-high 24 turnovers, which resulted in ASU putting up only 36 shots in the slowpaced game. With ASU only outscoring the Cougars by two points at the foul line, that tipped the scales even more toward the home team, whose performance delighted a crowd of 4,724 fans at Friel Court.
"I give all the credit to Washington State. We just came out with a lack of effort," said ASU sophomore forward Allen Morill, who had eight points and three rebounds in 24 minutes.
"We had a lot of mental mistakes."
The Devils led by four with 16 1 /2 minutes remaining when the Cougars scored eight consecutive points. A field goal by Justin Bellegrade gave WSU a 33-29 lead and the Cougars and their fans sensed they had an opportunity to get another Pac-10 victory.
ASU never had a chance to tie the game again after Diogu committed a turnover with 10:49 remaining and ASU trailing 34-32.
It was after Diogu’s turnover that WSU leading scorer Marcus Moore got into the game offensively.
After missing his first 10 shots, Moore scored on a 15-footer. After another ASU turnover, Moore drove for a basket and the Cougars were up by six, 38-32, with 9:48 remaining.
Moore finished the game with 12 points and three assists.
The Devils had no answer for Jeff Varem, Bennett’s lone signee after he was hired last spring to replace the fired Paul Graham, a friend of ASU coach Rob Evans.
The stocky 6-foot-6 guard scored inside and outside to lead all scorers with 17 points.
Varem went 5-for-6 from the foul line in the final 1:29 to hold off a late ASU rush after the Cougars had taken a 55-43 lead with 3:51 remaining.
"The effort. That was the biggest thing," Morill said. "You just didn’t see it. That was the worst I’ve seen us."
The defense-minded Cougars (9-9, 3-5) had the Sun Devils off kilter offensively but ASU still managed to lead 26-23 at halftime.
Diogu had two of his shots blocked and committed four turnovers as he was limited to six points.
"Our game plan was to limit his touches," said Cougars forward Shami Gill. "At times you could see them get frustrated."
Keith Wooden and Morill picked up the slack inside, combining for 12 points.
In the second half, ASU continued to struggle to find points with Diogu being surrounded.
Coming off a five-point performance against Oregon State, second-leading scorer Steve Moore had only six.
Jason Braxton was the only other Sun Devil in double figures (10 points) but he also made seven turnovers against the aggressive WSU defense.
And for the third straight game, an opponent shot better than 50 percent against ASU in the second half.
BONUS SHOTS: ASU freshman guard Tron Smith played for the first time. He entered the game wearing a protective mask for his broken nose but soon discarded it.
The 24 turnovers were the most since Dec. 29, 2001, against Canisius when ASU had 25.
Marcus Moore became the 10thleading scorer in WSU history with his 12 points.