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ASU Basketball: Villanova pulls away, Sun Devils search for more cohesiveness

Close but no cigar

NCAA Basketball: 2k Empire Classic Championship David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils men’s basketball (1-1) team hung with a top-five opponent in Villanova (2-0) in the early going, but a clear inability to move the ball offensively and secure rebounds defensively cost the Devils a shot at the victory.

Villanova controlled the second half with its patented team-first system under Jay Wright on their way to an 83-74 victory.

Statistically speaking, the Sun Devils performed just around level par in most vital categories with the Wildcats. Villanova shot 48 percent from the field to the Devils 43% percent, and ASU would actually outshoot the Wildcats from three-point range on the night.

Despite lacking true size, the Devils also scored more points in the paint, winning that battle 26-24.

Numbers often don’t tell the whole story, and the main headline of tonight’s game for Arizona State is the team’s obvious struggles generating offense.

Too many times, the Devils settled for poor shot selection or one-and-done offensive possessions where only a single player touched the ball.

One night after posting 26 points to lead the team in scoring, senior Remy Martin went 0-2 from the field in the second half on his way to five points, and wasn’t much of a threat generating offense for his teammates either, finishing the night with only three assists.

As a result, the players that capitalized on Martin’s superb playmaking Wednesday night against Rhode Island struggled tonight. Freshman Marcus Bagley managed 10 points, but none of them came easy, as Bagley went 3-11 from the field.

Josh Christopher was one of the bright spots for ASU on offense. The freshman bagged 28 points on a variety of shots, and proved tonight why he is regarded as one of the most exciting Sun Devil scorers since James Harden.

His length, quickness, and creativity off the bounce are all attributes that will give opposing defenses fits this season. Alonzo Verge Jr. also added 22 points.

“We’ve got to play better offensively, that’s got to be our bread and butter,” Bobby Hurley said. “We’ve got to have multiple guys playing well and we didn’t do enough on that end to beat a team this good.”

Arizona State struggled mightily grabbing rebounds against a Wildcat team that has always done the fundamental things so well under Wright.

Villanova grabbed 43 boards to ASU’s 27, and most damaging to the Devils were the 11 offensive rebounds they surrendered, which Villanova translated into six second-chance points.

Defensively, it is clear that Hurley has to find a replacement down low for Romello White, who transferred to Ole Miss this offseason.

Granted, a lot of defenders are going to have their hands full with Villanova’s Jeremiah Robinson-Earl this season, as the center put up a smooth 28 points on 65 percent shooting.

How the Devils will compensate without the same size and physicality on the roster that White brought each game is going to be one of the key questions for this Sun Devil coaching staff, especially before the team plays Oregon’s 6-foot-11 N’Faly Dante and USC’s 7-foot Evan Mobley.

The advantages going into tonight’s game were clear for both sides. Not many teams will put more talent on the court night in and night out than Arizona State.

Tonight’s victory for Villanova and its system that focuses on team basketball and player development was a reminder that quality coaching will almost always top raw talent.

Thursday’s contest was a great early season measuring stick game for the Sun Devils. And for ASU fans, it is safe to say the hype is real, this team is very good.

This is the most talent surrounding Hurley at the collegiate level since he was the point guard on Duke’s 1992 championship team and his teammates were Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.

The challenge for the expressive coach this season will be to channel his inner Coach K and get this team to buy in to moving the basketball in the half-court.

It’s much easier to defend this potentially explosive offense when they’re all standing still, watching a guard dribble the ball repeatedly in one spot, eventually settling for a contested jumper or an off-balance drive to the basket.

ASU struggled for much of the second-half and only lost by nine points to the No. 3 team in the country. This game could very well be their floor. If Hurley can get this offense in high gear, there’s no telling when ASU will hit that ceiling.

Arizona State will be back in action this Sunday at home against Houston Baptist at 2 p.m. local time.