Arizona State had a multitude of opportunities to come away with the with the win Thursday night at San Diego State.
Four to be exact. That’s how many 3-point looks the Sun Devils (2-2) had against the Aztecs (2-1) on a night where both sides swapped the lead back-and-forth throughout the contest.
By this point of the non-conference schedule, the early identity of this team has become a little more clear. The Sun Devils have the potential to shoot lights out, and on several nights this season, they likely will blow some opponents out of the water. It just hasn’t happened yet.
Thursday night in San Diego, the Sun Devils once again shot below 30 percent on 3-pointers and below 40 percent from the field. Arizona State eventually fell to the Aztecs 65-63.
What has kept the team in each of its four games in spite of the abysmal shooting has been patches of elite defense, and that was on display tonight, most considerably in the second half.
The Sun Devils opened that half by withholding an Aztec basket for nearly three minutes. They bettered that midway through the period by shutting down the Aztecs for nearly five minutes.
In that scoreless span for their opponent, the Sun Devils did little to capitalize on offense, turning a three-point deficit into an advantage of just four.
Near the end, ASU took the lead inside of two minutes. After a Trey Pulliam mid-range jumper gave San Diego State a one-point lead with a minute and change on the clock, the Sun Devils had every opportunity to win the game. Dj Horne, Marreon Jackson, and Jamiya Neal all missed 3-point looks in the final possession. Neal’s triple came as the buzzer sounded. His back iron miss would have won the game as time expired just a week after ASU was stunned at the buzzer by UC Riverside.
The second half was a carbon copy of the first, with no shortage of lead changes and big shots. ASU trailed in the final possession before the break, but Jackson drilled a three at the buzzer to give the underdog Sun Devils the halftime lead. The team would need two threes to go at the buzzer to win this one, but Jackson’s was the only one that found nylon.
Arizona State was carried by two primary scorers Thursday night. Marreon Jackson tallied 16 points, which was supplemented by Kimani Lawrence’s 14. Aside from those two, no other Sun Devil reached double digits.
A common criticism of Bobby Hurley’s ASU teams is that they play to the level of their opponent. This is a big issue against teams like UC Riverside and North Florida, but against a perennial power like San Diego State, it’s a shot in the arm.
Looking ahead, the next task does not get much easier. Arizona State head to Battle 4 Atlantis to face No. 9 Baylor on Wednesday, and the defending national champs look poised to make another run.