Two nights ago against Colorado, the Arizona State Men’s basketball team (11-7, 2-3 Pac-12) looked lost. They weren’t in rhythm and couldn’t find any success on the offensive side of the floor. The ASU team that showed up to Desert Financial arena on Saturday against Utah (10-7, 1-4) was vastly different. They won in commanding fashion 83-64 and did so with style.
From the first tip, ASU point guard Remy Martin collected the ball, attacked the defense and found Rob Edwards for an easy two points. This set the tone for the game, and ASU never looked back. The team played with confidence, composure and what seemed like a renewed intensity following three losses in four games.
Martin’s mindset during that opening sequence was simple.
“I want the team to know that from start to finish, they will have to deal with me always attacking them,” Martin said.
The rest of the first half was a low-scoring affair. The Sun Devils outplayed the Utes, but only went into the break with six-point lead. The game opened up quickly after the half and ASU exploded offensively in the second twenty minutes of play. This offensive renaissance was fueled by generating turnovers, getting the ball out in transition and excellent ball movement.
It was this unselfishness that allowed the whole team to step up and make plays. This has been missing for the Sun Devils in their recent struggles.
“It was a good feeling in the locker room,” head coach Bobby Hurley. “A good vibe to take a deep breath and just watch us make some plays and multiple guys play well on the offensive end of the floor.
“I thought we defended very well in the first half, just until we had a breakthrough on the offensive end. It was just good basketball. (I’m) very pleased with how we played tonight.”
Another key for ASU was that they were able to contain Utah forward Timmy Allen for much of the game. The Sophomore phenom is an Arizona native and went to Red Mountain High School in Mesa. His homecoming didn’t go according to plan after he started off 1-8 from the field. He found his rhythm in the second half, but ASU had already jumped out to a lead by this point. Allen still finished with 18 points, none of which came easy.
Speaking of defense, the Sun Devils not only locked up Allen but much of the rest of the Utes offense. ASU pressured Utah outside the three-point line and kept the Utes shooters from getting hot. The Sun Devils forced 18 turnovers and held Utah to just 39.3 percent shooting from the floor.
Strong defense was the foundation for the offense, that finally looked in rhythm. Leading the way was Martin. He is a player who has proved time and time again to be the heart and soul of this ASU team. He is the facilitator and the tone-setter. He executed both of these roles to perfection on Saturday, recording 20 points and a game-high six assists. Martin’s mid-range game wasn’t as sharp as it can be, but he did an excellent job of attacking the basket and creating open looks for his teammates.
“I wasn’t hitting my mid-range shots... the shots that I usually make,” Martin said. “In the second half I just kind of let it come to me a little bit. (I) hit Taeshon (Cherry) or Rob (Edwards) for open shots. As you can see everybody contributed today and it was a great win”
The teammate that benefited most from Martin’s passing was Edwards. The senior broke out of the slump that saw him get benched in the last few games with a 24-point performance that included five three-pointers. Edwards was locked in after scoring the first bucket of the game in the opening seconds. He shot 5-6 from deep and made a game-high seven free throws.
The game may have seemingly broken Edwards scoring slump, but he downplayed its significance. The guard hasn’t been overly focused on the outside noise. His strategy to break the slump has been simple. It revolves around trusting his teammates, getting in the gym as much as possible and “locking in.” It’s likely that he’ll employ a similar approach to keep up the momentum. Regardless, Saturday was a reminder of the talent and game-changing ability that Edwards possesses.
If Edwards can build off his performance, it would be a game-changer for the Sun Devils. Hurley said that when Edwards plays well it’s like a “pen in a balloon... It just takes so much pressure off (the rest of the team).”
Martin and Edwards carried the bulk of the scoring load for ASU. However other players like Taeshon Cherry, Alonzo Verge JR. and Kimani Lawerence all stepped up to make big shots.
“We moved the ball around and then we made the extra pass and multiple guys stepped into shots and made plays out there on offense,” Hurley said.
Big-man Romello White has been one of the more consistent players for ASU this season. On Saturday his stats didn’t jump off the page (5 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist) but his play was solid nonetheless. He often drew double teams and was very unselfish with the ball.
Another factor in the game that was clearly different from Thursday, was the atmosphere. Part of this can be attributed to the game being played on a weekend, but nonetheless, something felt different. Desert Financial Arena was loud and the environment was exciting. The crowd was into the game, ASU was playing great team basketball, and when a fired-up Hurley was assessed a technical foul the fans went into a frenzy. It only got louder when Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak was ejected late in the game for arguing a call.
The great atmosphere in the arena carried over into the locker room post-game. The mood amongst the players was noticeably lighter than it has been in quite some time. However, Hurley and company are already turning their attention towards redemption against the University of Arizona. The teams squared off a few short weeks ago and the Wildcats embarrassed ASU in a dominant 75-47 victory. The Sun Devils would like nothing more than to earn a little payback next Saturday at Desert Financial Arena.
“Yes, it was a good win and we had fun,” Martin said,” This is the type of Arizona State basketball that we need, but at the end of the day, You know those guys along the way (UArizona), man, we owe them one.”