For the first time in 10 years, Arizona State’s men’s basketball program won a game in March Madness. The Sun Devils (1-0 in postseason) held off St. John’s 74-65 in the team’s First Four matchup in Dayton.
Freshman guard Luguentz Dort led the Sun Devils with 21 points and the Devils got off to a big lead early in the first half. They threw the first punch in the first postseason win for head coach Bobby Hurley as a Sun Devil.
“I really loved how we started the game and really took control of the game,” Hurley said. “I thought our defense was really good. We mixed our defenses up some and our zone was pretty effective in the first half and we played very well on the offensive end. I think we were 14-26 at halftime from the field. We played really clean at that end of the floor.”
ASU pushed its lead back-and-forth near the 20-point plateau. At the half, the Sun Devils led by 13.
However, that didn’t mean St. John’s would go away easily. Led by junior guard and NBA hopeful Shamorie Ponds, who finished with 25 points, the Red Storm continued to fight. At one point, they went on an 8-0 run and trimmed the lead down to single-digits.
Despite the push, the Sun Devils continued to make timely buckets. Along with Dort’s strong performance, redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. He was a pivotal force.
For Cheatham, the game was something he just cherished being in.
“Just being out there was a privilege for me. That was an unbelievable environment and an unbelievable event,” Cheatham said. “As far as getting a win, I am going to say it. That one is for the city. I’ve witnessed ASU go through so much in this tournament. To be a part of this shift in culture is just an unbelievable experience for me.”
Aside from Chatham’s efforts, a scary moment occurred when Dort took a hard fall going up for a loose ball that was up in the air. He came down hard after being elevated up in the air, but he brushed off the tumble after the game, noting he was fine.
ASU ended up shooting 45 percent from the field but where they had their biggest impact was on the defensive end, where they continued to mix up zone and man-to-man looks to stymy St. John’s.
“Our scouting, we knew that they were a good team going one-on-one,” Dort said. “Going with the zone, it was hard for them to get involved and beat us one-on-one because we had help.”
When ASU did go with a man look, Dort was matched up with Ponds at times, and although he ended up with 25, Dort made the high-caliber scorer work. His efforts on both ends of the floor contributed to the victory.
Another question mark going into the meeting was the health of sophomore guard Remy Martin. After a groin injury against Oregon, it was announced that Martin would be okay to compete in the First Four.
He ended the game with six points on 3-7 shooting but his minutes were limited. The aftermath of his health will likely be something that is continually monitored as ASU continues its push in March. Although it would seem Martin will get his way onto the floor no matter what happens.
“As we had control of the game, I was trying to get him in and out of the game as I needed,” Hurley said. “The last thing I wanted to do was give him a chance to re-injure himself and re-aggravate that injury.
I thought he moved fairly well at times. He just didn’t get reps in practice for a couple days until the day before so I am sure that had some impact, but he is one of the toughest kids I have ever been around. He’ll tell me he’s getting close to 100 percent but I don’t know if he’s being completely truthful.”
Another lingering issue was the Devils’ turnovers. They had 21 in the game and it allowed St. John’s to cut a 14-point ASU lead down to seven late in the second half. Nonetheless, because of ASU’s strong start and stingy defense, they survived and advanced. That’s all that matters at this time of year.
Up next, Hurley and his regime get to square off against the school where he used to coach - Buffalo. The two teams tip-off on Friday in Tulsa at 1 p.m. Arizona time.
“I love coaching these guys. They are just such a fun group to coach and they are a bunch of winners,” Hurley said. “We don’t want the journey to end and that’s what it’s about this time of year. You got to keep making plays and attack each game.”