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Devils Dominate Beavers in Desert

Oregon State's three-game winning streak came to a halt on Wednesday night in Tempe.

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, AZ - Riding high off a home sweep of the Los Angeles schools, Oregon State came into Wednesday night's game at Arizona State full of confidence. But a hot start by the Sun Devils put some early pressure on the Beavers, and the visitors were never able to come back to make it a game.

Wayne Tinkle's team did come out of the gates ready to play. Refreshed after taking a lot of time off in the days leading into the game, they jumped out to a 7-3 advantage. Olaf Schaftenaar found Gary Payton II on a backdoor cut on the opening possession, leading to a thunderous dunk that brought the large amount of orange and black clad fans to their feet. Two minutes later it was Payton again, this time knocking down a three-pointer on a nice find by Malcolm Duviver to put Oregon State up by four. That would be its largest lead of the game.

"We watched a tremendous player tonight in Gary Payton," Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek said. "He really is extraordinary in how he impacts the game in so many different ways."

Payton would continue to shine, but he couldn't do it all. The Sun Devils, on the other hand, had as balanced an attack as the Beavers have seen all season. Senior small forward Shaquille McKissic led them with 17 points, while Gerry Blakes, Bo Barnes, and Tra Holder also scored in double figures.

A 27-9 run for Arizona State in the middle of the first half put the home team up for good. They made five three-pointers in that stretch, including three in a row. Better yet, the majority of their shots were coming in transition, something that didn't happen the last time these two teams met earlier this month in Corvallis.

When the Oregon State defense was able to slow them down, the Sun Devils ran their halfcourt sets as well as they have all year long. An increased focus on setting screens and movement away from the ball forced the Beavers to lose track of their shooters and resulted in many wide open shots. Shots that they have been hitting more and more in the past couple of weeks.

"We played well on offense in both of our last games," said Barnes after the game. "We knew we were playing a lot better, so there was definitely some confidence coming into today."

The Beavers did begin to defend better towards the end of the first half, holding Arizona State without a field goal for the final 3:25. An old-fashioned three point play for Jarmal Reid in the closing seconds pulled Oregon State to within 40-23 at the break, giving the team a small dose of momentum as they went into the locker rooms.

It was the Sun Devils that came out hot to start the second half though, knocking down everything given to them and forcing a Wayne Tinkle timeout before the first media stoppage.

"We just lost track of shooters and lost focus in the start of the second half," said Payton.

Now up by more than 20, Arizona State was able to relax. The Beavers now had to play quickly, not one of their strong suits, and that was fine with the up-tempo Sun Devils.

McKissic played much more aggressively in the final 20 minutes, finding the gaps in Oregon State's zone and drawing lots of contact every time he drove to the hoop. Nine of his 17 points came over a ten minute stretch in the middle of the second half.

Resorting to anything to try and make one last big run, Tinkle deployed a full-court trap for the final nine minutes of the game. With a lack of height and minus its best ball-handler in Kodi Justice (who is out for the season with a broken foot suffered on Saturday), Arizona State struggled to break the Beaver press.

They were able to work a few turnovers out of it, but an inability to convert on the other end squandered any chances of a comeback. Sendek finally made the decision to insert center Eric Jacobsen back into the game, giving the Sun Devil guards a big enough target to find and get out of the trap. The final score was 73-55, the game ending on a dunk by walk-on Matt Dahlen.

"I was just disappointed in the defensive performance," Tinkle told reporters after the loss. "We were not communicating in the man or zone and the lack of focus killed us."

Three Beavers finished the game in double figures. Payton led all scorers with 23 points, while Duviver ended with 14. Jarmal Reid was one of the few bright spots, scoring 13 off the bench. He also had three rebounds and a pair of steals.

The real story, however, is who didn't show up. Langston Morris-Walker was forced into some rough shots, finishing one for eight from the field. Arizona State did a tremendous job of switching on screens up top, limiting the number of looks for Schaftenaar. He finished without a point.

The most telling stat comes in three-pointers made, where the Sun Devils knocked down nine compared to Oregon State's two. They also shot 15 more (and made 15 more) free throws.

This kind of performance can be disheartening, especially when this game was supposed to be the easier of the two on the road trip. Now it is on to Tucson to take on a top ten Arizona team, one that will be looking for revenge after being upset in Corvallis just a few weeks ago.

The team needs to have a short memory and flush this one out of their system as quick as possible. Such is life on the bubble. And yes, this team is on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. But blowout losses against .500 teams will not do them any favors.

Arizona State has now won three of its last four and gets a reeling Oregon team in Tempe on Friday night. The Sun Devils are sitting at 11-10 and are trying to stay on the right side of a different bubble (the NIT).

Oregon State's game against Arizona will be played Friday night at 7:00 PM Pacific (8:00 PM in Tucson). All games in the desert this week have been moved up a day to prevent conflict with the final two rounds of the Waste Management Open and of course, the Super Bowl. You can watch the game on the Pac-12 Networks.