Through the first three games of the Arizona State basketball season, there are a few certainties. This team will play fast, this team will share the ball and this team will play relentless on the defensive end. Nine Sun Devils scored in Arizona State's 68-44 rout of Loyola Marymount Thursday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
It was a historic night defensively for the Sun Devils, as Arizona State held LMU to just a 28 percent field goal shooting percentage. It is the lowest an opponent has shot against Arizona State since 2011. The Lions shot just 1-11 from beyond the arc and 11-19 at the free throw line.
"I thought we played an outstanding defensive basketball game," said head coach Herb Sendek. "Over the course of the last two weeks, I think our defense has improved dramatically. I thought our guys did a fabulous job on that end of the floor."
For the second time in three games, the Sun Devils struggled out of the gate. They turned the ball over on their first two possessions and led by just one point at the first media timeout. Turnovers continue to plague Arizona State, as the Sun Devils have turned the ball over 36 times in the past two games, including 17 Thursday night.
"We are turning the ball over way too much," said Sendek. "I have charted every turnover we have had this season, they have happened in a wide variety of ways. Whether it be a guard being stripped or a guy stepping out of bounds. If I had to say one thing that we can control sooner rather than later, it would be eliminate the need to make any home run play."
The Sun Devils began to pull away midway through the first half. After LMU took an 8-7 lead on a layup by Paston Siame, the Sun Devils went on a 17-3 run to take a 24-11 lead with 5:36 left in the first.
Leading the charge for the Sun Devils not only in the first half, but in the entire game was the Arizona State bench. Sendek's bench tallied 45 of the team's 68 points. Three players came of the bench and scored double figures, including Chance Murray. The sophomore scored 12 points and led the team with four assists.
"It was Chance's best game at Arizona State," said Sendek. "He was solid with the ball, (he had) four assists and one turnover and he set his teammates up nicely."
Murray played off the ball in high school and did not see the court much in his first season in Tempe. He is still learning the point guard position, but he shot 8-10 from the free throw line and only turned the ball over once.
"It gave me a lot of confidence to get out there and get more minutes," said Murray. "I look at Tra (Holder) and I learn from him believe it or not. He's play it (point guard) his whole life and I am in my second year. I am not really used to playing the one (point guard) so it gives me a lot of confidence."
Despite the strong play from the bench, the Sun Devils led by six points at halftime and the Lions cut the lead to just four points early in the second half. The Sun Devils had one more run left in them. Leading by 10 points with 6:16 left in the game, the Sun Devils went on a 20-6 run to end the game and finish off the Lions.
Jonathan Gilling and Barnes each scored 11 points, they combined to shoot 6-11 from 3-point territory. Kodi Justice added six points and Eric Jacobsen recorded his second straight game with double-digit rebounds, finishing with seven points and 11 boards.
Jacobsen also added four blocked shots and the Sun Devils as a team recorded five steals. At one point in the second half, LMU missed eight straight field goals. The Lions ended the game with just one made shot in their final seven attempts.
"I feel that with so many athletic guys, we can really fly around on defense," said Murray. "I feel like it is a team game for us and we don't really have anybody that stands out so defense is going to be our best asset."
The Sun Devils still have a long way to go and the level of competition will increase next week when Arizona State travels to Kansas City, MO for the CBE Classic. The Sun Devils open against Maryland on Monday and will face either Iowa State or Alabama on Tuesday. Sendek knows this team must improve, and they must do so quickly.
"We certainly aren't the No. 1 team in the country," said Sendek. "But this is a team that I love coaching. I can't tell you how hard these guys work on a daily basis and the good spirt that they have. As a coach if you can be in the gym with those kind of people, win, lose or draw you know you are fortunate."