Arizona State’s 90-68 victory Tuesday night over the San Diego State Aztecs in Tempe felt different than ASU victories past.
It was against a perennially-contending program, and it was convincing.
The Sun Devils ignited a monstrous second half run, completely outclassed a longer team at the free throw line and crushed a program that consistently charges to the postseason to the tune of 25.5 wins per season.
The biggest difference for ASU was the presence underneath the rim. Freshman Romello White made his Arizona State debut with 16 points and 15 boards while junior DeQuon Lake had 15 and seven, shooting 100 percent from the floor on seven attempts.
Senior guard Tra Holder finished with six assists — nearly double his career average — and clearly benefitted from having other offensive options beyond he and fellow senior guard Shannon Evans II.
“(Lake and White) just make the guards’ jobs so much easier,” Holder said. “They’re such a big presence in the post...(opposing teams) are going to have to pick and choose which one they want to guard.”
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley noticed a difference too.
“A part of why we’re different and have a chance to be better is the balance that we have,” Hurley said. “With the guards and what they can do away from the basket and get it to the rim and the presence of Romello and DeQuon around the basket...it’s going to make us harder to defend.”
The Aztecs certainly did have trouble trying to stop the Sun Devils’ new front court duo, especially in the second half. 12 of White’s 16 points came after the break and Lake managed six points and three boards across just eight minutes during the second period.
White was asked about how it felt to finally get to play out under the lights at Wells Fargo Arena, after redshirting all of last season.
“Amazing,” White said. “I’ve been waiting for it for a year.”
White also touched on how difficult it was last year to be a part of the program in conditioning and practice, but not being on the court when it counted.
“It was really difficult, especially in the beginning,” White said. “I would just get all down really, in a bad place. After a while, I talked to some guys on the team that had to redshirt and they just told me to play hard and that next year will be worth it.”
The ASU guards have been near the tops of the conference in years past, but now it seems that the big men may have a chance to join them.
After last season’s personnel-debacle in the front court, the narrative has shifted in Tempe. Lake’s 24-point debut last week thrust him into the spotlight, while White’s performance Tuesday night landed him some media attention of his own.
The balance and rebounding prowess Hurley has cultivated with his new-look roster has allowed Arizona State to push faster down the court and take aggressive chances that — unlike last year — don’t originate and remain beyond the three point line.
“We secure the ball and we’re pushing it and coming right at you,” Hurley said. “If we can score early, we have the guys that are capable of doing that. If we need to run our half-court offense we can now throw it inside some, it’s a good mix.”