What went right: The Buffs outrebounded Arizona State 36-32 and enjoyed a dominant 24-14 advantage in second-chance points. CU also finished 18-for-20 at the free throw line.
What went wrong: Besides Xavier Johnson's ejection, the Buffs struggled from 3-point range, going 5-for-22.
Star of the game: Derrick White. The senior guard turned in another stellar all-around game and more than picked up the slack after Johnson was ejected,
What's next: It will be a quick turnaround for the Buffs, who play at No. 17 Arizona Saturday night.
TEMPE, Ariz. — Sparks flew, and Xavier Johnson was forced to leave the building.
The good news for the Colorado Buffaloes is that for the first time this year the Buffs looked adversity in the face on the court and responded. Unfortunately for CU it wasn't enough to pick up a key road win, as Arizona State's Tra Holder converted two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to send CU to a 78-77 defeat Thursday night in a Pac-12 Conference thriller at Wells Fargo Arena.
Playing without Johnson the entire second half after an ejection late in the first half, CU was nearly carried to victory by senior Derrick White, whose driving layup with 19.6 seconds left gave the Buffs a 77-76 lead.
With the teams trading leads down the stretch, CU appeared to get the defensive stop it needed following White's layup, but in an otherwise standout performance White was called for a foul as Holder attempted to convert an offensive rebound.
“There's no doubt our guys battled,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I have a totally different feeling in my heart and my gut than I did after the Utah game, because I thought our guys battled and fought. They lost a player in the first half. We lost a player. I think our player was a little more important to us than theirs was to them. But that's what happened.
“It's unfortunate, but our guys battled back. We played well enough to win that game. We made some plays down the stretch, and Derrick White was unbelievable.
The fireworks began with about a minute and a half remaining in the first half when Johnson was fouled on a driving attempt to the basket. Arizona State freshman Jethro Tshisumpa fell hard over Johnson to the side of the basket standard, and as the temper-inflamed players tried to get up Tshisumpa clearly threw a punch toward Johnson.
In the ensuing melee the officials apparently decided Johnson did the same, as he was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul alongside Tshisumpa with both players receiving automatic ejections.
While ASU is a team thin on depth, the tradeoff was a clear advantage for the Sun Devils. Tshisumpa entered the game averaging just one point and 1.7 rebounds. Up to that point Johnson had practically kept the Buffs in the game single-handedly, making 6-of-7 shots while pacing CU's .484 first-half shooting percentage. Erase Johnson's numbers from that equation, and the rest of the Buffs shot just .375 (9-for-24) in the first half.
Afterward Boyle said he had not yet been able to review video of the incident, while Johnson was not made available for comment.
“We showed a lot of fight after (Johnson) couldn't play any more, but it's unfortunate to come up short at the end,” senior guard Josh Fortune said. “We had to pick each other up and stay positive, and come out and do what we normally do, concentrate on defense and rebounding.”
ASU led 41-37 at halftime in a game that eventually saw nine lead changes during the final six minutes.
The Sun Devils extended their lead to nine points early in the second half when a 10-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from White, gave the Buffs their first lead since the game's early moments. CU never led by more than two the rest of the way before suffering its fourth consecutive road loss against Arizona State.
White paced the Buffs with 35 points, going 10-for-20 from the field and a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line. He also added five rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. Johnson finished with 13 points in his abbreviated appearance, while Tory Miller turned in a solid game off the bench with eight points and four rebounds.
Once again the Buffs were unable to get on track from 3-point range, going 5-for-22. White and Johnson combined to go 4-for-8, meaning the rest of the Buffs finished just 1-for-14.
It will be a short turnaround for the reeling Buffs, who have a daunting task in trying to avoid an 0-3 start in the Pac-12 with a date at No. 17 Arizona Saturday night.
ARIZONA ST. 78, COLORADO 77
Gordon 1-3 2-2 4, King 1-9 2-2 4, D.White 10-20 12-12 35, Fortune 2-5 1-1 5, Johnson 6-7 0-0 13, Miller 4-5 0-0 8, Collier 0-2 1-2 1, Peters 1-3 0-0 2, Akyazili 0-1 0-0 0, Lombard 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 2-4 0-1 5. Totals 27-59 18-20 77.
ARIZONA ST. (9-7)
Oleka 7-11 1-2 15, Vila 1-1 2-2 4, Holder 3-14 4-4 11, Evans 6-14 3-3 18, Justice 4-6 0-0 10, Tshisumpa 1-1 0-0 2, Graham 7-15 0-0 18, O'Field 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-62 10-11 78.
Halftime — Arizona St. 41-37. 3-point goals — Colorado 5-22 (D.White 3-6, Brown 1-2, Johnson 1-2, Collier 0-1, Akyazili 0-1, Peters 0-2, Fortune 0-2, King 0-6), Arizona St. 10-26 (Graham 4-8, Evans 3-7, Justice 2-3, Holder 1-5, Oleka 0-3). Fouled out — Vila. Rebounds — Colorado 34 (King 7), Arizona St. 28 (Oleka 10). Assists — Colorado 16 (D.White 5), Arizona St. 11 (Holder, Evans 3). Total fouls — Colorado 16, Arizona St. 21. Technicals — Johnson, Tshisumpa.