ASU Basketball: Efficient first halves key to Devils’ success

TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 12: Head coachBobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during the first half of the college basketball game against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on January 12, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - JANUARY 12: Head coachBobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during the first half of the college basketball game against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on January 12, 2017 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

After lackluster performances in three straight first halves, ASU basketball finally put together a consistent first 20 minutes in their win against Pacific. A chase for a Pac-12 crown will require more of the same.

For the first time in school history, the Arizona State men’s basketball team has opened the season at 12-0, being ranked No. 3 in the country while entering Pac-12 play as a favorite to capture the first conference championship in program history.

Their two best victories have come away from Tempe, with a a neutral floor blowout against Xavier and a dominant true road performance against a national blueblood in Kansas.

Senior guards Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice, along with newcomer Remy Martin, have been averaging a combined total of 63 points per game on 41 percent shooting from the three-point line, putting Arizona State on the national scale with the trendy label known as “Guard U.”

The low-post game is no longer a point of weakness, as forwards Romello White, De’Quon Lake, Mickey Mitchell and Vitaliy Shibel have added depth to a rotation that will only get better with Kimani Lawrence’s return to the lineup quickly approaching.

So, what is there to complain about?

Throughout the brunt of their non-conference schedule, the Sun Devils have consistently shown they’re a second half team. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In their last three games, the Sun Devils had shot 54 perceny from the field in the second half while holding their opposition to just 38 percent shooting. In these spans, they would often go on runs that spanned from 13-15 unanswered points, while compiling jaw-dropping plays that had appeared on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

Again, what could be the problem?

The first 20 minutes.

The performance of the Sun Devils in the first half has been nothing short of ice cold of late. Against these same last three opponents, ASU shot 38 percent from the floor while posting point totals of 37, 30 and 35.

To put that in perspective, the Devils have had to use their highest ever point totals in a half (58, 60) to put together the numbers that would be expected out of the nation’s seventh-best scoring offense. Although it hasn’t been, these one-sided performances could be a problem waiting to happen.

“We have to clean that up,” Hurley said after Tuesday’s victory against Longwood. “We can’t just play the second half, especially with the schedule and how things are going to become more difficult moving forward.”

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Their victory against Pacific showed that the Sun Devils keyed in on their slow starts. The “Guard U” trio of Holder, Evans and Justice lit up the scoreboard with eight three-pointers in the first half, helping their team tally 47 points on 48 percent shooting.

For the first time in three games, the Sun Devils held the lead wire-to-wire, not having to come back from 13-point deficits they’d dug themselves in against Kansas and Vanderbilt.

“It was a great way for us to close out non-conference,” Hurley said. “It was a complete game throughout.”

A solid first-half for the Sun Devils was accompanied by the second-half heat most fans had been accustomed to. In a three-minute span, ASU exploded for a 15-0 run in a game which they already lead by 21, showcasing their three-point arsenal and their ability to finish in transition.

This 47-point second half was built by more effective shooting, as the Sun Devils converted 58 percent of their field goal attempts, including a span where they converted seven straight in their late run.

“This is why I came here,” Martin said when discussing his team’s bursts of offense. “I’m able to play my game.”

Once again, the second-half was the story for Arizona State. This ability to drag teams out late in the game is a quality that any team would like to have, especially in a Sun Devil team that would like to make a deep run late into March.

In today’s victory, the Sun Devils posted their highest point total of the season this afternoon with 104. Right now, that could be viewed as a promising component for the team to unlock their full potential.

In eight days, this kind of start will be imperative to knocking their in-state rivals that happen to be the powerhouse of the conference: the Arizona Wildcats.

U of A has lost just two games at home in the last four seasons, holding an environment at McKale Center that will draw blood at any sign of weakness from the opposition. Needless to say, not a lot of people win there. 

Granted, the stakes are different. The Sun Devils are arguably the hottest team in the country, while the Wildcats are still trying to find their identity after three straight losses in the Bahamas.

But the history? At the moment, it’s the same as it generally always has been.

In the Bobby Hurley era, the Sun Devils have yet to capture a single win against Arizona. In that span, Sean Miller’s Wildcats have won two out of the last three conference championships, holding Arizona State inferior to basketball superiority in the desert.

Until the Sun Devils can change the stakes with a victory against their rivals, the view will remain the same. Arizona has one of the nation’s best scorers in Allonzo Trier coupled with a potential No. 1 NBA draft choice in DeAndre Ayton, talent once again deep enough to give the U of A another chance to reach the Final Four. As of now, the Sun Devils are still inferior.

Next: ASU Basketball: Strong second half powers #3 ASU to 11th straight victory

In order for history to change, the Sun Devils will have to change. With their hot start to the season and the way they’ve improved each game, they look to be ready for the tale to switch sides. 

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.