Lawrence, Kansas -- Bobby Hurley sat in front of the media Sunday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse, primed to speak about yet another historic victory he had managed over the Kansas Jayhawks during his career.
This time, though, he wasn’t playing. He stood on the James Naismith court in Lawrence in a suit and tie, leading his No. 16 Arizona State Sun Devils (9-0) to a historic 95-85 victory over the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks (7-2) and imparting his wisdom on a trio of guards that may soon become household names.
Senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans, alongside freshman Remy Martin, combined for 72 points in a building Kansas had lost in just ten times during Bill Self’s 15 seasons with the Jayhawks.
“I trust these guys,” Hurley said, flanked on both sides by his senior playmakers while matching their outfits with a ‘Guard U’ shirt on. “They really play for each other, they’re fearless. They stepped up to the challenge against a great perimeter that Kansas has, a high scoring team.”
The task at hand for ASU’s backcourt — spark another unbelievable offensive performance to keep up with Kansas’ elite guards — was made much more difficult just a few minutes into the game.
The Jayhawks’ guards were flying around the perimeter, setting screens, finding open shots and knocking them down to open a 15-2 lead in front of more than 16,000 screaming fans. Kansas even added a couple alley-oops to further energize one of the most difficult atmospheres to play in in the country.
Hurley, though, was prepared for it. He knew KU would try and rattle the Sun Devils early.
“It was on our board,” Hurley said. “In all the games that I watched they really got out to a great advantage in the first half. We knew that they would take a really big swing and see if they could knock us out.”
The Jayhawks surely landed a punch, but ASU didn’t take long to counter.
Holder and Evans took their foot off the gas on offense, allowing their offensive possessions to develop and spacing the floor to generate more open looks. Once they started to find them, ASU slowly climbed out of the early hole and went on a 15-3 run.
“The game slowed down for us,” Holder said. “At first it was really rapid (when) the crowd got into it. We were telling each other ‘pick spots where we can find each other and attack the defense.”
KU’s star guards in Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick may have impressed early, but it was the Sun Devils’ backcourt that stole the show down the stretch.
Arizona State fought back to position itself just three points behind Kansas at the break, then went on a huge 15-0 run to open a 13-point lead midway through the second half.
“For Shannon and Tra and Remy to have the games they had, we just kept calling their numbers,” Hurley said. “We wanted to keep giving them chances to drive and make plays.”
Holder had 29 points and Evans had 22 — 16 of which came during the second half — but a new member of the backcourt would join the ASU guards in the spotlight Sunday afternoon.
Freshman Remy Martin had a season-high 23 points in Allen Fieldhouse in his ninth game at the collegiate level.
“To see Remy score 23, 8-11 from the field and make all the plays he did on defense, it was a tremendous thing for me to witness and be a part of.”
Hurley believes the huge second half run could be attributed to the three players that took the podium next to him following the victory.
“We can defeat teams with our offense,” Hurley said. “We just keep scoring and teams will say ‘are these guys ever going to miss a shot?’ They’re just complete players, all of these guys and Kodi Justice.”
The defining moment of the season continues to change. First it was the second-half explosion against San Diego State in Tempe, then it was an undefeated run to a tournament championship in Las Vegas,.
Now, it has become the ten-minute stretch in Lawrence when the Sun Devils held off the No. 2 team in the country and was able to preserve a double-digit lead despite all odds.
Holder took a moment during the final minutes of the game to huddle with his teammates in the middle of the court. A chance to do the unthinkable — win a road game at Allen Field House and tie the best start in school history — was hanging in the balance.
What did Holder say?
“To close the game we have this drill called “The Hurley Drill,” Holder said. “We run a lot, it’s really hard, it’s three minutes. I told them, ‘this is like running the Hurley Drill, we gon’ fight through it and we gon’ beat the drill.’”
The Sun Devils would beat the drill, but no part of Arizona State’s victory against Kansas was routine. ASU hasn’t been 9-0 since 1974 or beaten a top-5 team on the road in 19 years.
The victory will be remembered by the ASU faithful for decades, and two players in particular on the Sun Devils’ roster won’t miss the chance to cherish it.
“When you start thinking about March and things like that, you lose times like this,” Evans II said. “Times like this, our coach, our teammates are all happy, having a good time doing what we love to do.”