Not every game is a highly anticipated clash that makes headlines. In college basketball, there will always be matchups on paper where there is a large disparity in talent. Matchups, however, aren’t won on paper. Both teams must still play the game, and anything can happen.
On Sunday, Arizona State (2-1) found themselves in that situation when the Rider University Broncs (2-1) came to Tempe. The Sun Devils responded how a good team should...with a convincing 92-55 victory.
Early in the game, ASU found themselves in a 10-2 deficit. Following a timeout and a renewed defensive vigor, the Sun Devils tied the game at 12 apiece with 11:59 remaining in the first half. They never trailed again.
The ASU bench was the key to change momentum.
“The first group didn’t really get off to a great start, but guys like Jalen House, Elias (Valtonen) and Taeshon (Cherry) came in and gave us energy,” said junior point guard Remy Martin. “They gave us that jump.”
From there, the game was relatively smooth sailing for head coach Bobby Hurley and his team.
Through the first two games of the year, redshirt senior guard Rob Edwards has been the most effective scorer (21.5 ppg). On Sunday, he had a down game (5 points on 2-8 shooting) and his teammates had to fill the scoring void.
They stepped up to the challenge.
Martin, House, Romello White, and Alonzo Verge all finished in double-figures.
Verge, a junior college transfer, was especially effective early. The dynamic guard hasn’t yet found his shooting stroke, but contributed in other ways. He forced two early turnovers and passed the ball well. He finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.
At times, his defensive play mirrored that of his hyper-energetic teammate, House. Add Martin to the equation, and it became evident that opposing guards will have to work for every bucket.
On Sunday, this was on full display as the trio accounted for 10 of ASU’s 16 steals. Defensively, the Sun Devils had the most steals that they’ve had in a game since 2009, and forced the most turnovers (29) in an (ASU) game since 2003.
The Sun Devils brought full court pressure for long stretches of the game and utilized the trap as well. This pressure kept the Broncs from finding a rhythm and created ample opportunities for ASU in transition.
“It just enables you to really rattle your opponent, make it difficult for them to run offense even when they don’t turn it over or have a live ball turnover,” Hurley said. “You take away eight to 10 seconds off the shot clock, which forces them to get into offense on a shorter clock, and I think it energizes. We were able to score in bunches.”
It also creates opportunities in transition, which is where ASU thrives.
“We want to get out and fast break,” Martin said. “We are a fast transition team, so when we create turnovers we get to go. We’re pretty hard to stop when we get in transition.”
House agreed that defense was the base of their success. He went as far as to say that playing good defense may be more important than what’s happening on the other end.
“I feel like defense is more important because if you’re not having a good night offensively, you could always have a good night defensively,” House said. “I just emphasize defense more than offense.”
Three games into his ASU career, and House has already established himself as a presence off the bench. He doesn’t possess his father’s (Eddie House) scoring talent just yet, but is one of the best defenders on the team. His frenetic energy on and off the ball changes the game. His team-leading plus/minus of +34 was evidence of this.
“I know it not only as a coach but as a former player and point guard...It’s not fun when someone is that quick with their footwork, that can turn you that frequently and make it very difficult to get the ball across half court,” Hurley said.
His energy and passion could be felt throughout the arena.
“He brings that energy,” Martin said. “He’s just a good teammate. You want him on your side because on the ball he’s going to create havoc and change the speed up on defense.”
Against Rider, House had the most complete game of his short collegiate career and shot the ball well. Entering the game, he was 1-for-8 from deep. On Sunday, he had a team-leading three 3-pointers on six attempts. Martin matched his offensive output with 20 points on 8-13 shooting.
With the game well in hand, Hurley gave all 16 of his healthy players minutes. Nine of which players played at least ten minutes.
Jalen Graham and Valtonen played well off the bench and will continue to vie for more playing time as the season progresses.
The Sun Devils will now turn their attention to St. Johns, who they beat last season 74-65 in the “First Four” of the NCAA Tournament. That game will take place on Saturday, in Connecticut as a part of an early-season tournament.