After dominating Chicago State in Friday's opener, most expected more of the same out of Arizona State on Monday against Bethune-Cookman. Instead, the complete opposite happened. The Sun Devils jumped out to a large lead early on in front of a cavernous Wells Fargo Arena, forcing miss after miss with a stingy man-to-man defense.
The Wildcats did not get on the board until the 15:40 mark, and by that time it was already 10-0.
A 17-5 binge for Arizona State in the middle of the first half put the home team up 20, and a pair of three-pointers from newcomers Kodi Justice and Gerry Blakes made it 33-14 at the end of the first 20 minutes.
"I thought we did a good job early in the game of getting the ball inside," head coach Herb Sendek said. "That was a focus for us after the first game and the guys made a concerted effort to do that."
It was apparent early in the second half that Bethune-Cookman had made adjustments and Arizona State was complacent with the scoreboard. The Wildcats came out in a zone defense that befuddled Arizona State's play-makers. They also dictated the pace, working clock and taking the air out of the ball so the Sun Devils couldn't run them out of the gym.
"Every shot we took was magnified in importance," said Sendek because of the change in defense. The maroon and gold turned the ball over twice as many times as they made a field goal in the second half.
While the final margin was only ten points, it never really felt like the lead was in jeopardy. A Jonathan Gilling three-pointer with 4:10 remaining made it 47-30, and the visitors scored the game's next nine points to force a timeout from Sendek. Point guard Tra Holder came out of the timeout and got a huge driving layup to put the Sun Devils back up double digits, one of the few bright spots on the night for the true freshman.
"We have to do better with the end of the game stuff," center Eric Jacobsen said. Jacobsen led the team 13 points and 10 rebounds.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that Arizona State got the win and learned from it. The comprehension better come quickly, however, as the schedule gradually increases in difficulty over the next two weeks.
Next up is a visit from Loyola Marymount on Thursday night. The Lions are 1-1 and are led by sophomore guard Evan Payne, who is averaging 22.5 points per game after opening weekend.