Arizona State’s non-conference slate will be remembered for its perfection, for the marquee wins against Xavier and Kansas and for the deadly scoring bursts that helped ASU get those key victories.
Fans and opponents saw it time and time again — watching as the Devils stormed back from a sizable deficit or pulled ahead in a game that seemed deadlocked. They blew open the Xavier game on a 21-5 run in the second half. Down 13-0, they stormed back against Vanderbilt, ending the first half on a 16-5 burst.
The late barrage of scoring that guided ASU to No. 3 in the country hasn’t shown up in their last two contests, however.
In its 90-81 loss in overtime to Colorado, Arizona State’s biggest second half run was the 7-1 scoring advantage it grabbed in the final minute of regulation. In their 80-77 win at Utah three days later, an 8-0 run to start the second half, highlighted by five free throws, was the closest thing to the late ASU burst that many have become accustomed to.
Now, this could be pinned on the Devils poor shooting – they only shot 36 percent from the field against the Buffaloes and 45 percent against Utah, both below their season average of 48 – but, there was another noticeable change in both of those games.
The referees in both games were blowing the whistle often, calling questionable fouls and in the process, disrupting ASU’s flow.
In the Colorado game, both teams combined for 47 fouls, ASU had 27. Against Utah, the Sun Devils got called for 31 fouls, the two teams totaled 50.
In Salt Lake City, ASU forward Romello White entered the game, and in a matter of 48 seconds he had two fouls hanging over his head.
“Yeah, it’s real hard (to get into a rhythm with so many fouls). Especially for me – a lot of times I feel like I get fouls that is not really a foul,” White said. “So last game, I got two fouls in the first two minutes and I can’t play the whole half. And then coming out in the next half I’m cold, I’m not really loose and then I get another foul.”
The quick calls not only kept arguably ASU’s best big man on the bench for most of the game, it didn’t allow ASU to run the fast-paced offense it prides itself on.
“I feel like it really hurts us,” White said. “Then we slow down, they keep calling fouls and we keep having to stop and shoot free throws and then it slows us down and gets us cold. So, I feel like the fouling is just hurting us.”
Freshman guard Remy Martin added: “[The fouls] kind of slow it down a little bit, obviously because of free throws and stuff like that, but we would like to play in a fast-paced, obviously that’s what we do.”
If his reactions on the sideline don’t give it away, Sun Devils’ head coach Bobby Hurley has not been pleased with the officiating as of late, either. After calling what was deemed a foul on foreword Mickey Mitchell late in the Colorado game “a complete joke,” the Pac-12 reprimanded Hurley on Friday.
Trying to avoid fouls, however unwarranted, Hurley says he is working to adjust to the officiating in-game, but trying to avoid fouls that many don’t deem so can be difficult because some, including White, don’t know what to change.
“They (The coaches) were just telling me to try and keep my hands up, because sometimes I’ll put my hand on them (opponents) for a little bit and they’ll (the refs) just call a foul,” White said. “Like it’s not really a foul, but they’re (the coaches) are really telling me to keep my head in the game, because they know it’s not really a foul.”
The fouling and profusion of free throws doesn’t allow the Sun Devils to grab a loose rebound and fly down the court in transition as much as they may want, instead, it’s forced them operate out of the half-court a great deal.
But foul or no foul, in transition or from the half court, Martin knows the Sun Devils can shoot regardless of the circumstances.
“We’re a faced-paced team, we like to run. But, I don’t think anything could really stop us,” Martin said. “The refs might have called bad calls, who knows? But, at the end of the day, we’re going to go out there and play our hardest and shoot the ball, because we can shoot the ball out of a half-court set or a full-court set, it doesn’t matter.
“We pull-up from anywhere.”