Four days ago, the Arizona State Sun Devils (4-1) suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of low-major Texas Southern on the road. It was the beginning of another disappointing season in the eyes of some.
The team still struggled to score and Twitter was full of fans wanting Bobby Hurley fired. Now, the Devils just hung a combined 150 points in two games to beat not one but two NCAA tournament-caliber teams in 24 hours to win the Legends Classic tournament in Brooklyn.
A statement win, and a strong foundation
It’s a storyline that not many would believe by word of mouth. And certainly, not one that would’ve garnered even the lightest scoff following the Sun Devils’ first-half performance against VCU (3-1). When the first 20 minutes ran off the clock, ASU was barely still kicking against the Rams, trailing 35-28 and shooting just 11-for-28 at the break.
The scoring struggles didn’t necessarily subside in the second half, but just enough moonlight crept into the Barclays Center to keep the Devils fighting. Frankie Collins went to work with 14 points in the second session, knocking down four field goals and six more from the charity stripe. DJ Horne and Desmond Cambridge combined to add 13 more for Arizona State. While the offensive production ramped up, it was the defensive effort that put the Sun Devils over the top on Wednesday.
After falling behind 52-41 with 8:58 to play in regulation, the Sun Devils were on dire straits, staring down their second straight loss. That is before the defense grabbed an oar and turned the tide in their favor. For the rest of the game, VCU did not make a single field goal. With the Rams’ offense neutralized, Collins and the Devils erased the double-digit deficit in less than four minutes, knotting the score at 56 with five minutes to play after an Austin Nunez three-ball.
After three empty possessions to refuel the gas tank, the Devils stomped on the right pedal, taking the lead on a Duke Brennan lay-in and never surrendering it with smothering defense and key baskets from Desmond Cambridge and DJ Horne.
Putting the Sun Devils on the map
The gutsy win over VCU proved merely the undercard, however, to Thursday’s main event.
Waiting on the Devils in the Legends Classic title game was the No. 20 ranked Michigan Wolverines (3-1), a team fresh off a Sweet 16 run last March with three straight wins to open this season. Preseason All-American Hunter Dickinson was at the forefront of those victories, the junior’s paint presence being widely regarded as the most intimidating in the country.
Dickinson, in a recent appearance on the “RoundBall” podcast, predicted his Wolverines to defeat the Sun Devils by 20. With Marcus Bagley, Enoch Boakye, and Jamiya Neal all not in Brooklyn for the tournament, you’d have to do some real digging to find anyone willing to disagree.
The Sun Devils though took it personally. By the under-16 timeout, ASU had put 12 points on the board in five consecutive possessions to take a 12-5 advantage with nine of the scores coming from Horne and Desmond Cambridge.
The next time ESPN2 went to a commercial five game minutes later, the lead was stretched to 25-10.
By the time the half closed, the Sun Devils had scored 46 points on 56% shooting, with 11 of them coming from freshman sensation Austin Nunez. On the other end, the defense held the Wolverines to 28 on a 30% clip. 18 of Michigan’s 28 first-half points were scored by two players, Dickinson and Jett Howard.
The halftime break did not slow down Arizona State, who were rolling faster than the 1 Train on a Monday morning commute.
The Michigan push out of the half, which cut the lead to 15 at its lowest, was snuffed out by another offensive fire fest. Somehow, ASU shot even better in the second half than the first, with 60% of their attempts falling. Horne and Cambridge stayed hot, but Luther Muhammad joined the party this time around with nine points of his own. The trio would combine for 28 of the Sun Devils’ 41 points in the back 20. With Michigan going 2-for-13 from deep and 4-for-22 the whole game, the Sun Devils’ defense put the game away with time to spare as they cruised to an 87-62 victory.
When the carnage was over, Arizona State cut down the turnovers to just 12, knocked in 11 threes on 19 tries, and out-rebounded a much bigger team, 35-31.
The win over No. 20 Michigan marked ASU’s largest win over an AP-ranked team in program history and secured the Legends Classic tournament championship for the Sun Devils. Desmond Cambridge, who scored 30 points on 50% shooting in the two games, was named the tournament’s MVP. It’s the third time that the Sun Devils have captured a preseason tournament title under Bobby Hurley, and the win over the Wolverines was also the 8th year coach’s tenth victory over a ranked opponent at Arizona State. The Sun Devils will look to stay hot on Tuesday when they host Grambling State (2-0), a team that’s already up-ended Pac-12 rival Colorado this year.