During the first 20 minutes of basketball at Wells Fargo Arena, it was painful to watch. Neither Arizona State or California was in any sort of rhythm, as they played like it was another lazy Sunday afternoon.
Luckily for the Sun Devil faithful who were scared of another resumé destroying loss, it wasn’t meant to be as senior day ended in storybook fashion.
Behind a strong second half offensive performance, the Arizona State Sun Devils (19-8, 10-5) defeated the lowly California Golden Bears (5-22, 0-15) 69-59 in the Sun Devils’ final home game of the season.
Senior forwards Zylan Cheatham and De’Quon Lake both got the start in their final game at Wells Fargo Arena, and had a strong impact.
Cheatham totaled eight points along with 12 rebounds and three assists in the winning effort, while Lake had perhaps his best performance of the season, going for eight points, four rebounds and two big blocks.
“You can tell how much it means to Zylan and Lake, they both were very emotional,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “Those games are really tricky and difficult when you add something like that’s out of the normal routine for them.”
With the Sun Devils trailing 34-28 at the half, the team knew the key to winning would be simple: Offense. They are the conference’s highest scoring team, and they were up against the worst power five team in the nation per NET rating.
ASU ended the first half shooting 26 percent from the field and turned the ball over seven times. Six of the seven turnovers came from two of their primary ball handlers in Cheatham and Dort.
Their head coach let them know their play was unacceptable, and made them adjust to avoid another tough home loss.
“I went in earlier than normal. I usually give them more time,” Hurley said. “I said what needed to be said. I don't know if it was good for them or not, it wasn’t great for me either or my health.”
How did they respond?
By going out and making their first eight field goal attempts as they reclaimed the lead and coasted to another victory, and double-digit conference wins.
“Very motivating words that he was using,” sophomore guard Remy Martin said of the pep talk the team received at the break.” “He was coach Hurley. He let us know and we took it with good intentions and we went out there and did our thing.”
Junior guard Rob Edwards scored 14 of his 16 total points in the final 20 minutes, as he went on a great shooting run. His shooting prowess remains the key to whether or not ASU will be able to make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament, and the NCAA Tournament should they reach that point.
Freshman guard Luguentz Dort, playing in perhaps his final game in Tempe, was another key offensive contributor. Dort led ASU with 22 points on an efficient 6-of-11 from the field.
What impressed his head coach more than anything was his consistent defensive effort, no matter how he was doing offensively.
Hurley also took the time to acknowledge his seniors, specifically Cheatham. He’s gone through a lot this season, but has remained an impact player on the court and a great leader for his teammates.
“Not everyone has a real impact on a program the way he has,” Hurley said. “It’s immeasurable what he’s meant to me for two years. Last year the way he worked, his attitude, his personality just had such a positive effect on everything we did. He just got a lot of special qualities that are going to do well for him beyond basketball when he’s done playing.”
While the home slate of games may have ended, there is still three meaningful regular season games remaining. It begins Thursday night against the Ducks in Eugene, and ends with an afternoon game in Tucson against their rival.
ASU currently sits in a good position to make a good tournament run, but for anyone who has followed this team, there’s only one certainty. That’s to expect the unexpected.