Sun Devils fans got a great show tonight, and DJ Horne was worth the price of admission in a victory for ASU (2-0) defeating familiar foe, NAU (0-2), 84-68.
ASU had something to prove after squeaking one out against Tarleton State on Monday, and there seemed to be some nerves to open the game.
“Even though we won, I felt like we lost on Monday,” DJ Horne said. “Today was definitely a better feeling leaving the gym.”
Getting back on track
Entering the gym, the energy carried over from Monday. The first half was pretty slow.
NAU was matching ASU’s interior intensity to open the game, but couldn’t get the ball in the basket. Warren Washington and Devan Cambridge (Desmond Cambridge missed the game with an injury) were on the boards and defending the blocks with a high motor, helping the Devils in a lowly first few offensive possessions.
Marcus Bagley was the early target for shots, making a jumper plus the foul to put the Sun Devils up 5-2. NAU was sticking with them early even though shots weren’t falling, only trailing 11-7 at the 12 minute mark.
But, DJ Horne had bigger plans for ASU’s offensive attack tonight. Horne, who put up just 8 points against Tarleton on Monday, shot the lights out of DFA for 10 straight minutes. ASU’s junior guard went off for 18 points on 5-8 from the field, including two threes and six free throws to go with it.
“Tonight, I felt like the combination of me believing in myself, and my teammates being confident in me, my shot went in,” Horne said.
The run really started with an Austin Nunez fast break three pointer with eight minutes to go in the half. Following that three and some free throws, Devan Cambridge hit back to back triples and a beautiful slam on a lob from Horne.
“Moving the ball we played a lot better together today,” Cambridge said. “There was a lot of up and down – it was very exciting.”
The Sun Devils had a stretch to close the first half shooting 9-9, and a steal with seconds to go that forced NAU to foul Cambridge for easy free throws.
That defense mentioned earlier – they were working hard. After NAU’s Nik Mains hit a jumper to make it 9-7 Sun Devils, ASU switched from man defense to zone. On the first possession following that change, DJ Horne intercepted a pass and took it home for two.
“We have to have good communication on defense, play together, and we can compete with anybody if we do those things,” Cambridge said.
The Sun Devils also dominated the offensive and defensive glass in the first half, with every player that got in taking a rebound into the stat book. They finished the half up 22-10 in the rebounding department.
That’s good basketball right there.
“The ball was moving pretty well and I felt like we were a little bit more relaxed out there,” Hurley said.
The first half finished up with ASU leading their in-state opponent 47-22, an ideal start under these conditions.
Playing with a cushion
The second half started just as well as the former ended. Cambridge drilled his third three of the night, Washington with a little up and under layup off of a rebound, and DJ Horne yet again hit one from deep on a steal by Frankie Collins.
“I thought the balance was really good,” Bobby Hurley said. “Everyone was contributing offensively.”
That shot put ASU up by 25 with 17 minutes to play, so it was a matter of time from there.
Marcus Bagley, who went to the locker room early after a hard fall on a layup, came back out looking fast for the Sun Devils, cutting to the basket and giving his teammates easy assists.
Bagley wasn’t the only one out there making it tough for NAU, as the combination of Cambridge, Washington and Alonzo Gaffney were making it nearly impossible for any of their oppositions to get to the basket, forcing them to take shots from outside.
It didn’t go well for the Lumberjacks. In the first half, NAU shot 1-13 from deep and 31% from the field as a whole. Some of it was missed shots, a lot of it was the Sun Devils defense giving them a hard time.
It seemed to get to them as the game wore on, with some extracurricular activity on tie ups and loose balls after the whistle, including a hard foul by Carson Towt under the basket on Cambridge.
“I just wasn’t going to let it go,” Cambridge said about a loose ball scuffle in the second half. It appeared to be heated but Cambride said it was more playful than anything.
“We were laughing the whole time – I said, ‘where are you going?’”
Technical fouls were issued to both Liam Lloyd and Enoch Boakye. Duke Brennan was also ejected from the game after crossing half-court from the bench during the scuffle, which was a first for me.
ASU didn’t let it get to them, however, coasting to a victory in the final 10 minutes. Bagley was hitting jumpers, Enoch got a big slam, and the Sun Devils defense was unwavering in their effort tonight.
“We felt like we had a physical advantage with our athleticism,” Hurley said.
To prove the point of being physical, Alonzo Gaffney fouled out of the game after playing only 20 minutes. That’s true toughness in my eyes.
NAU didn’t quit, though. They knocked the lead down to 11 with two minutes to go, on a 19-2 run that lasted four minutes.
“We have to be better with that – we played sort of down,” Cambridge said. “We just have to keep applying pressure.” But, the Devils would prevail, kicking the year off 2-0 for the first time since 2018-2019, where the Sun Devils started 8-0.
“We have to learn how to sustain a lead and have to win with people who are committed and want to see this team win,” Hurley said.
It was Frankie Collins who was the offensive spark last time out for the Sun Devils, this time it was a two-man show with help from the supporting cast. DJ Horne finished with 25 points on 7-11 shooting, Devan Cambridge tallied 16 points, and four out of five starters were in double digits.
“People don’t respect my shot,” Cambridge said jokingly. “If it’s open I’m going to take it.”
ASU collected 8 steals and 3 blocks, letting NAU score just 20 points in the paint. Turnovers and fouls were adding up towards the end, but the numbers weren’t a problem when you shoot 54% from the field.
“We played 30 minutes of really high-level basketball, and the last 10 were a fiasco,” Hurley said.
“We’ll work on the last 10.”