Arizona State’s up-tempo, guard-heavy system under head coach Bobby Hurley has been notoriously suspect on the defensive end. Often lacking both the size and ability to consistently string together strong defensive outings, the Sun Devils have in recent years relied heavily on their offensive abilities to produce victories.
Yet as ASU (8-2) wrapped up its fifth straight win Saturday with an impressive 79-59 takedown of the Georgia Bulldogs (6-3), Hurley was sure to point out yet another staunch defensive outing from his team while measuring the magnitude of their 20 point victory.
“Overall, I think our game plan defensively, our energy defensively, has been pretty much a constant all year and it was no different tonight,” Hurley said postgame. “Holding a team that I think was third in the nation in scoring coming into this game to 59 points just says a lot about what we’re doing.”
Not only did ASU hold Georgia to their lowest scoring total of the year, the Sun Devils forced the Bulldogs into their most dismal shooting performance of the young season. Georgia started the game on a poor note, missing their first three attempts, and it only got worse as the team connected on only 35% (23-66) of their shots Saturday including a mindboggling 8% (2-24) from three.
Much of this had to do with the poor play of potential number one pick Anthony Edwards, who came into Saturday’s contest averaging 20.6 points including a 37-point outburst against Michigan State, yet was held to only 15 points in the loss. He began the game guarded by guard Elias Valtonen, who has quickly established himself as the team’s premiere defensive stopper, but was hounded throughout the game by a variety of Sun Devil defenders.
“It was a team effort,” said Hurley of the team’s game plan against Edwards. “We wanted to try and trap him in any ball screen, try and get the ball out of his hand … A player of that caliber, and is gifted as he is, you have to give him that type of attention and hope that you force other guys to beat you.”
On the other end of the floor, guard Remy Martin once again captained the Sun Devil offense, leading both teams in points (23) and assists (6). Despite an unusually poor shooting performance, finishing the game 9-22 from the field and 3-10 from three, Hurley was quick to commend the play of his star junior while acknowledging his importance against the upper echelon of opponents.
“In big games, he generally shows up and performs,” Hurley said of Martin. “He loves the big crowd, and the opponent, and then even the storyline, with having a potential number one pick in the building. I think he takes things like that personally in terms of wanting to show what he can do.”
Forward Romello White was another standout performer in ASU’s win Saturday, notching 18 points and 17 rebounds for his third straight double-double. The junior has been an irreplaceable presence down low for the Sun Devils, displaying an improved touch with both hands while playing with an intensified ferocity not present in previous seasons. With 47 rebounds across ASU’s last three games, White has emerged as one of the country’s premiere cleaners of the glass.
“He’s been amazing, I don’t know where we’d be without him,” Martin said of White. “That dude has been getting every rebound, and he’s just being a great teammate … When a guy like that, plays like that, we’re hard to stop.”
A season-high 11 points from forward Kimani Lawrence was another welcome surprise for ASU Saturday, as Hurley has talked at length about how to get the trusted veteran going on the offensive end. Interestingly enough, Lawrence says it was his commitment to his defensive play that spurned Saturday’s outburst.
“I really started buying in on the defensive end,” Lawrence said of the changes he’s made so far this young season. “Even though my offensive game hasn’t been clicking the last three games, I feel like I’ve been playing really good defensively, so I’m trying to build on that and carry it to my offense and it finally clicked tonight.”
Up next for ASU is a battle with the St. Mary’s Gaels at Talking Stick Resort Arena as a part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase. With a daunting conference schedule looming for the Sun Devils, Hurley is anxious to see what his team can look like when they operate at the level he expects.
“I can’t help but watch the game and know that there were some things left on the table, especially in the first half,” Hurley said. “It gives me a lot of hope that maybe we’re just scratching the surface here.”