TEMPE - They say it’s not about how you start, but how you finish.
The words of Jim George rang true for the Sun Devils (1-0) in their season opener, as they overcame a 12-point deficit in the first half, and a 7-point one with three minutes to play in the second, to defeat Tarleton State (0-1), 62-59.
With plenty of new pieces on the floor, it took time for Bobby Hurley’s squad to put a winning puzzle together on Monday, time they almost didn’t have. The Sun Devils led the game only twice, both times at the end of each half and it took late hot streaks in each to get there.
Comeback in the final minutes
The conclusion of the second half particularly took some chaos. Having gone down by seven with three minutes to play, ASU embarked on a 10-0 run to finish out regulation. This was nothing new on this night for the defense, which secured four of its eight turnovers in that run. But for an offense that had been virtually shut down up to that point, one wouldn’t be amiss to expect doom on Monday night. Having struggled to score all night, the top bucket-getter from last year’s team in DJ Horne stepped up with a running floater and the game tying jumper sandwiching Collins’s fourth three of the night.
Following a missed three from Collins, Horne came up on the defensive end with a steal right on the out of bounds line, before finding Marcus Bagley in the middle for an and-1 layup to take the lead for good.
“They outplayed us really,” Hurley said. “We just were fortunate to make plays down the stretch and close them out.”
If it weren’t for those late bounces, the Sun Devils could’ve easily found themselves on the losing side. Hurley himself acknowledged the feeling after the game of one that wouldn’t resemble a clutch victory.
“It was not a very celebratory locker room,” he said.
The newcomer and a familiar face at the top of the stat sheet
Two of the lone bright spots on the team all night, Collins and Bagley were key to the comeback late in the second half. If it weren’t for a career high 21 points from Collins, they likely wouldn’t have even had the chance. But with the type of defensive pressure the Texans put on the Sun Devils, Collins was the one to step up throughout the second half and keep them in the fight despite him not expecting.
“I didn’t think I would take 11 (shots), I knew I was going to take some though,” said Collins. “They were going underneath so I had no choice.”
Step back stick— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) November 8, 2022
That's 20 points for @Frankiecollins0
TSU was no new opponent for Collins, who faced off against the Texans last year as a member of the Michigan Wolverines. Part of his success on Monday was because of what he had seen from them prior.
“They were the exact same last year,” said Collins.
This type of tenacity and physicality that the Texans played with was not unexpected by Hurley, given what they had done against other high-profile opponents a season ago.
“You watched them last year, they play hard,” Hurley said. “Last year they played Michigan and Gonzaga tough.”
Slow Start Shooting
The first half served as a precursor to the struggles of the second. In the first 20 minutes, ASU shot just 33% from the field, including a concerning 10-18 mark from the free throw line. The cold stretch from the stripe, like much of the offensive issues, did not turn around out of halftime as the Sun Devils shot 14-29 as a team for the game.
“We gotta shoot better from the line,” Bagley said. “Going to have to get back in the gym and get shots up from the line before Thursday.”
With a minute to play in the half, ASU had yet to grab a lead on the Texans, as turnovers and shot-making had the Sun Devils trailing. That is until, Marcus Bagley made his presence known on the court for the first time in nearly a year by sinking back-to-back threes to give Arizona State their first lead of the day.
“I felt like I was in foreign territory,” said Bagley, who played his first game since a season-ending knee injury a year ago. “I’m just happy we got the win but I’m gonna keep being patient with myself and knowing it’s a process out there.”
Bagley would go on to score 13 points on the game, including the game clinching “and-one” with 18 seconds to play.
What. Just. Happened. @bagleymarcus23— Sun Devil MBB (@SunDevilHoops) November 8, 2022
Clutch steal and Marcus Bagley and-1 layup gives us the late lead.
: https://t.co/RXM2s8DGD4 pic.twitter.com/zg51ar3qaR
Even with the victory, ASU’s total time with the lead was a mere 51 seconds. While rebounding was a plus all night, especially with seven-footer Warren Washington in foul trouble for much of the contest, little else went right. Hurley highlighted ball security as one of those downsides.
“Twenty-one turnovers will not win you a lot of basketball games,” said Bobby Hurley. “It wasn’t a pleasing game on the eye I would say.”
Nonetheless, the Sun Devils overcame the rough outing and prevailed in a script flip from the end of last season. With the win, Arizona State will improve to 1-0 for the seventh time in Bobby Hurley’s now nine year tenure, and they’ll look to improve that mark on Thursday against NAU.