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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils use second half surge to defeat Nebraska-Omaha

The four forward lineup was highly effective.

Richard Martinez/House of Sparky

A perfect record is never something to take for granted. The Arizona State Sun Devils have had their fair share of injury trouble in their backcourt, but still boast an impressive 6-0 record that includes an upset of a ranked opponent.

Even more impressive, ASU easily bested Nebraska-Omaha without two of their starters and a key rotation players out due to injuries. Sophomores Remy Martin, Rob Edwards and Mickey Mitchell all didn’t play Wednesday night.

Arizona State (6-0) defeated the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (3-5) 87-71, at Wells Fargo Arena with the help of some unlikely offensive contributors.

Starting four forwards (sophomore Kimani Lawrence, freshman Taeshon Cherry, sophomore Romello White and senior Zylan Cheatham), the Sun Devils started off slow at first struggling to contain Nebraska-Omaha’s hot shooting.

This was likely due to starting such a unique lineup and it took some time to adjusting on defensive matchups. Once they figured it out, it was smooth sailing.

“Our stretch from the six or seven minute mark in the first half until the first seven minutes of the second half was as good as any consecutive stretch we’ve played this year,” said Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley. “It was exciting to see the level of defense we were playing during that stretch and the ball was moving really well out there as guys were making plays.”

From the period Hurley mentioned above, ASU went on a 37-9 run knocking the Mavericks out of contention. The Sun Devil defense held Nebraska-Omaha to 38.7 percent shooting in the second half, stifling their only potent offense.

Offensively, the Sun Devils shot 51.6 percent from the field against the Mavericks in a team effort.

Freshman guard Luguentz Dort was tide for the leading scorer with 19 points, and showed promise in leading the first unit. Dort dished out five assists Wednesday and more importantly didn’t turn the ball over.

Cheatham came one assist shy of a triple-double as he scored 13 points and corralled 12 rebounds.

It was the breakout performance from Cherry that was the high point of ASU’s night. The freshman has dealt with a knee injury since the preseason and has looked gun-shy early on. Wednesday night he scored 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting including going 3-for-6 from three-point range.

Cherry picked a good time to breakout in his first collegiate start.

“First four games I think my confidence was a little shot so I wasn’t playing as consistently as I needed to be,” said Cherry. “Z (Cheatham) and them brought me in just told me to let it fly, and the last couple games I’ve been playing with confidence.”

The Mavericks displayed a very strong offensive attack in the first half. Shooting 53 percent from the field and having success scoring against ASU’s four-big lineup.

However, when Arizona State got into their defensive rhythm with the new personnel, it was all over for the Mavericks.

Omaha-Nebraska was paced by senior guard Zach Jackson, and sophomore forward Matt Pile. Both players were getting efficient shots off and posing problems to the typically staunch ASU defense.

Arizona State was without sophomore guard Remy Martin, who re-aggrevated his ankle injury during the Vegas tournament. Martin played well against both Mississippi State and Utah State, but appeared clearly hobbled by the ankle.

With two less-than-stellar teams coming into The Bank this week, there’s no incentive to rush Martin ahead of a matchup with No. 5 Nevada looming next Friday in Los Angeles.

Sophomore guard Rob Edwards remains day-to-day with the same back injury. The Sun Devils won’t rush Edwards back either given their current success.

Senior guard Zach Jackson and sophomore forward Matt Pile kept the Mavericks in the game early, but were stonewalled in the second half. The duo scored just five of their combined 31 points during the last 20 minutes as the Arizona State adjustments worked beautifully.

Arizona State now turns their attention to the Texas Southern Tigers, who are coming off a thrilling win against No. 18 Oregon in Eugene. The Tigers sport an unimpressive 2-4 record, but their two wins have come against Power Five opponents Baylor and the Ducks.

There’s no indication that ASU will be getting some of their injured players back for Saturday. In the meantime, they don’t appear too worried about playing hurt due to their new team identity.

“I don’t think we have any straight scorers on this team,” said Hurley. “Most of the guys that we have value doing a lot of different things well and by the nature the roster is built towards moving the ball and making the right play.”