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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils searching for identity as conference play nears

The Sun Devils are hoping to find some consistency.

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico State at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State shooting guard Shannon Evans II and head coach Bobby Hurley share a tight bond, so it made sense the two were simpatico in discussing the Sun Devils’ recent form after Monday’s practice.

“We gotta be consistent and find our identity,” Evans said. “Anything we do well—try to stick to that.”

With a third of their regular season completed, the Sun Devils are still searching for identity and consistency, and it’s not clear whether they’ll be able to uncover either yet.

“It’d be nice to get us to that point,” Hurley said. “We’re in the process of building something here. We’re trying to get to that point where we have our identity set where we can counter each other each game in a lot of areas.”

ASU hasn’t won or lost consecutive games since it opened the season with back-to-back home victories over Portland State and Cal Poly. Since then, the Sun Devils have alternated between picking up wins and losses en route to a 6-5 record.

Their latest stretch included an impressive road win over San Diego State followed by an 11-point defeat against New Mexico State at home.

Evans says the season has felt “like a roller coaster” thus far. With the No. 9-ranked Creighton Bluejays visiting tomorrow, the junior said ASU can’t afford to lack good energy like it did in its recent loss.

“We got outworked,” he said. “We didn’t stick to the script, so tomorrow we’ll try to stick to the script, try to outplay them, and bring a lot of intensity.”

A key to the Sun Devils’ energy: Their frontcourt, which has taken on a more pertinent role in the wake of Sam Cunliffe’s transfer.

In ASU’s first game without Cunliffe, freshmen bigs Jethro Tshisumpa and Ramon Vila, and redshirt-freshman forward Andre Adams took on a larger role. However, Tshisumpa and Vila got into foul trouble, negating their influence and making way for Adams to play a season-high nine minutes during the Sun Devils’ loss to NMSU.

“We gotta get more energy out of everybody at that position,” Hurley said. “We need as much rebounding as we can get out of it, and defense. Those guys are young, and they’re still inexperienced, and gaining experience.”

This is especially true of Tshisumpa, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo rated an ESPN 100 prospect in the 2016 class. The transition to the Division-I game has been gradual, but there’s been spurts of his potential impact.

One issue preventing Tshisumpa from experiencing more early growth has been his inability to stay on floor. Against NMSU he contracted four fouls in five minutes. This season, he’s drawn 25 total personal fouls in 79 minutes of play.

Hurley says he and his coaching staff have been working with him to improve his positioning.

“I think this is a part of his learning curve,” Hurley said of Tshisumpa. “Some days he’s gonna have games where he has issues with fouls, and then others days he’ll be like San Diego State. We’re hoping to get him to the point where he has enough experience to be more consistent.”

Meanwhile, Evans says the Sun Devils need to get back to finding their identity, starting with their effort.

“At the end of the day, we’re playing basketball,” he said. “Whoever wants it more is gonna win. So we just gotta bring the energy, bring the passion and play harder.”

With ASU set to host its highest-rated non-conference opponent since 1980, Hurley said his squad has put last week’s lost behind it.

“We’re hoping we can find an identity and lock into that identity, and try and get to playing some good, consistent basketball,” the second-year coach said.

With only two non-conference games remaining before Pac-12 play getting underway, the Sun Devils will need to discover an identity sooner rather than later.