It seems like Arizona State men’s basketball (4-6) has finally found its groove.
It was an aggressive defensive performance against Grand Canyon University (8-2) that put the Devils on top 67-62.
The game was a cross-town rivalry that has been present for years, despite the first game between the two teams occurring just last year.
Valley of the Sun Devils pic.twitter.com/7wiftlcIf3— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) December 10, 2021
Last season, ASU edged out GCU 71-70 with Remy Martin’s game-winning 3-pointer. Grand Canyon’s Jovan Blacksher had a chance at a game winning 3-pointer, but Holland Woods, who was with ASU at the time, blanketed Blacksher into missing the shot.
This year, with no Martin and Woods on the other side, ASU still found success.
The Devils finally looked liked a cohesive unit that clearly wanted the win.
“We have confidence as a team. Things are starting to click a little bit,” Kimani Lawrence said.
It started off strong for Arizona State as they went on a 8-2 run for almost six minutes against the reigning WAC champions. It was explosive and energetic, which is just what the Sun Devils needed.
It turned into a strong 16-5 start.
“I thought we got out of the gate well, which was nice to see” coach Bobby Hurley said.
Defensively, ASU had the highest number of blocks all season and ties the school record with 13. They also had 33 defensive rebounds.
“It was a defensive-oriented game,” Hurley said.
The Sun Devil’s efforts were aggressive. They stuffed GCU in any way possible.
Woods was not blocked just once, but twice by ASU. Marreon Jackson can be credited with the nasty block that basically bodied Woods. Alonzo Gaffney takes credit for the second one.
“The blocks were significant, just our length around the basket, and our ability to alter and block those shots…” Hurley said.
Lawrence was key to the overall performance. He finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“He was a rock for us tonight in this game,” Hurley said.
Along with Lawrence was DJ Horne. Horne scored 14 points and went 2-2 on the line.
ASU held the lead the whole game, despite how close GCU came to taking the game over.
GCU came within one point with eight minutes to go in the second half. But despite the Lope’s efforts, ASU did not let them gain control.
ASU’s 26-28 free throws was the highest percentage the team has ever shot with a minimum of 25 attempts.
This game was Hurley’s 150th career win as head coach.
Desert Financial Arena was arguably a neutral court for both teams tonight.
“Going into the game, we treated it as an away game. I feel like it helped us stay locked into the game,” Horne said.
Grand Canyon University, which is only 17 miles from DFA, showed out with both a massive student section and fan base.
Both sides were loud and proud, which created an exciting energy. The student sections didn’t hesitate on the banter.
“I thought it was a fun game to be a part of. It was a lively building. I think our fans showed up. It was terrific to see that kind of support in a season where we have seen some tough outcomes… It was great for the kids to play in that environment,” Hurley said.
For ASU fans, all eyes were on Taeshon Cherry and Woods, the newest members of GCU who transferred from ASU after last season. So far this season, Cherry and Woods combine, on average, for 20 points per game.
Tonight, they combined for 24 points. This was the first time that both Hurley and Lawrence faced former ASU players who transferred.
“It was everything I thought it would be. You are conflicted on how you feel, because you have had so many games with those guys,” Hurley said.
Cherry fouled out with a little under five minutes remaining in the second half. He finished with four points and six rebounds.
Woods played without fear and took every chance presented to him. He was the leading scorer on both sides, with 20 points. He had seven rebounds and went 3-3 from the line.
“He is a warrior. He did everything he could to try and win the basketball game for his team, and I’m not surprised. That kid has a lot of guts,” Hurley said.
Despite the win, there is still room to improve for the Devils. Their offense is still struggling to gel as much as Hurley wants.
The last time ASU was in DFA was their devastating 51-29 loss against Washington State.
Now, Arizona State is on a two-game win streak after their road overtime win against Oregon on Sunday.
“I think there is a lot to build off of these two wins… It got bad and it can get bad again, if we don’t stay focused,” Horne said.
Arizona State will go back on the road to play Creighton on December 14 at 6 p.m. MST on FS1.