The Sun Devils failed to clean up on the defensive glass last night, giving up 15 offensive rebounds in their loss to the Oregon Ducks. The problems on the glass, however, have existed far prior to last night’s game.
Nobody wanted to acknowledge it.
Through their first 12 games of the season, the Sun Devils were rolling. Their average margin of victory was by 20 points per game, slicing through an array of opponents that included Kansas, Xavier, St. Johns and San Diego State.
They had arguably the best backcourt play in the nation, with seniors Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Kodi Justice showcasing an upbeat style of play that captivated the early season of college basketball. With top-100 recruit Kimani Lawrence and Ohio State transfer Mickey Mitchell readying their returns to the court, it became inevitable that one of the nation’s best teams were set to become even better.
But the problem was always there.
In their 12 non-conference victories, it was easy to mask the issues the Sun Devils had on the defensive glass. Nine of those victories were in spite of their opponents recording double-digit offensive rebounding numbers, including three games in which they gave up 15 offensive rebounds or more.
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Now, with conference play in full swing, these struggles are beginning to creep up on them. In each of their three losses, the Sun Devils have given up an average of 13 offensive rebounds a game, an issue that’s disallowed them from closing out long possessions on defense.
“They struggled to make shots, but we didn’t defensive rebound,” coach Bobby Hurley said after last night’s loss. “We just didn’t finish the possession the way that we needed to.”
“They grinded us up on defense,” Justice added. “That was hard for us to keep trying to compete on the defensive end, and we’d miss an open shot because we were playing 45 seconds on defense.”
Due to the nature of their high scoring offense, several teams have tried to limit the Sun Devils with zone looks and full-court presses. Last night, the Ducks stalled for lengthy possessions on offense, often forcing the Sun Devils to rotate with the constant ball movement from both ends of the floor.
Working late in the shot clock on several possessions in conference play, the Sun Devils have also been losing the battle they’d been consistently winning in the non-conference season: the battle in the paint.
“Something we talked about was [to] try to win the paint,” Hurley added. “We’re searching for the balance that we need, and we got to get some production.”
In particular, the struggles in the paint have been taking a toll on Romello White. White, after being a double-double machine in his first 11 games, has been unable to produce at a high level in ASU’s first four conference games. He’s averaging just 5.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and has been often limited due to foul trouble.
“Everyone has to help him,” Hurley said. “I got to do better at finding ways to get the ball in his hands, and we have to take advantage of trying to make him better. We just got to try to get him playing back to where he was at earlier points in the season.”
Now 1-3 in Pac-12 play, the Sun Devils are dealing with their first taste of adversity in the early season. Once rolling on offense and running teams out of the gym, they’re now dealing with close games that require consistent play to win down the stretch.
It’s not time to hit the panic button yet. The Sun Devils have another game at home Saturday night against the Oregon State Beavers, a game that would restore their Pac-12 title quest should they emerge victorious.
However, things aren’t clicking like they did in the beginning of the season. The Sun Devils haven’t quite found the flow they once possessed, and teams are starting to chase the heavy target that now lies on their backs.
Hurley is confident things will come together, but knows there are some adjustments his team will have to make to get there.
“We can execute. We’re certainly good in spurts. But we’re not in a great rhythm, and we’ve been just grinding it out trying to find it. We’re searching for the balance that we need.”
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.