Adversity is not supposed to be something that a group of people thrive on. Expectations are low, the challenge is daunting and execution is everything.
Arizona State men’s basketball keeps performing on a night-to-night basis with many cutting them out of the postseason picture for a variety of reasons. The bad losses have piled up, and they haven’t found a way to string together a conference winning streak.
Following a tough loss in Boulder, the Sun Devils would be expected to turn in a big time performance that makes the fans forget the early week struggles. As if it was written on a script, an offensive barrage hit an already snowy Salt Lake City.
Arizona State (17-8, 8-5) defeated Utah (14-11, 8-5) 98-87 with the help of an elite offensive attack from four of their five starters. They replicated what the Utes did to them to begin Pac-12 play by shooting the lights out of the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
It was a tale of two stars in freshman guard Luguentz Dort and redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham each half and under the radar brilliance from sophomore guard Remy Martin and junior guard Rob Edwards throughout.
Dort began the game red hot from three-point range, and finished the game with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He did foul out with lots of basketball remaining in the second half, but then the senior got to work in the post.
Cheatham got out of the gates slow, including picking up three fouls in the first half. As the second half became a foul fest, the senior was doing a tremendous job of getting easy buckets as well as forcing contact for fouls. He finished with a double-double scoring 24 points and corralling 10 rebounds.
Despite his fine work scoring the basketball, he wasn’t even the games leading scorer. That title belonged to Edwards, who finished with a game and career-high 28 points on 9-of-14 from the field and 4-of-6 from three.
Not to be forgotten, Martin was quietly great in scoring 16 points and dishing five assists while playing a game-high 37 minutes in the altitude.
Utah was much less successful in getting into their offensive rhythm after falling behind early in the game. Senior guards Sedrick Barefield and Parker Van Dyke both scored 17 points to lead the Utes, but were unable to play well at the same time.
Barefield was an inefficient 4-of-13 from the field, and scored the majority of his points at the free throw line. Van Dyke notched 15 points in the first half, but ASU defensive adjustments limited him to two total points in the final 20 minutes.
Both teams shot 54 percent from the field during the game, but the key difference was the Sun Devils success from the free throw line. ASU went 20-for-24 from the charity stripe despite struggling at the line for most of the season.
Utah however was 23-of-36 leaving many free points off the board, which was very surprising considering the Utes’ strong shooting efficiency throughout the season.
After splitting another road trip, the Sun Devils will now return home for two must win games in order to improve their tournament prospects. It starts with the Stanford Cardinal, who handed ASU one of their more difficult losses of the season in Palo Alto earlier this year.
Five more regular season games await prior to the Pac-12 Tournament, with the last three all on the road against quality conference opponents. With so much uncertainty on which ASU team will show up leaves many around the program scratch their heads.
But one thing is for sure, if the Sun Devil team that showed up in Salt Lake plays that well the rest of the way. ASU has to like their chances.