ASU Basketball: Deandre Ayton makes the difference, again

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 15: Deandre Ayton
TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 15: Deandre Ayton /

Much like their first matchup at the McKale Center, Deandre Ayton dominated the Territorial Cup rematch in Tempe, proving to be too much for a smaller ASU basketball team.

If you looked at the box score, it wouldn’t make much sense.

In their 77-70 loss to the Arizona Wildcats Thursday night, the Sun Devils won the battles in points in the paint, points off turnovers, fast break points, bench points and three-pointers made.

They also forced 20 Arizona turnovers, an effort that kept the Wildcats in a full-court affair for the majority of the game. The pace was everything that coach Bobby Hurley had hoped it would be.

So, what was the difference?

The potential first overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

“He’s a special player,” Hurley said. “After competing against him twice, he may be the best big that I’ve seen in college as a player and as a coach, in terms of his future and upside. He’s just scratching the surface of what he’ll be.”

Since their loss to Stanford, the Sun Devils had locked down on their defensive rebounding woes, as they had limited six of their last seven opponents to less than 10 offensive rebounds.

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Tonight, those difficulties reappeared, as Ayton corralled eight of Arizona’s 14 offensive rebounds, a threat that kept De’Quon Lake, Mickey Mitchell and Romello White on the defensive when they tried to end the Wildcats’ offensive possessions.

“Our bigs got in foul trouble,” Kodi Justice said. “I felt we were a little tentative to try not to pick up a foul. They had nine offensive rebounds in the second half, and I think he (Ayton) had pretty much all of them. Any shot they missed, he was putting it back because we were in foul trouble.”

When the Sun Devils faced the Wildcats in Tucson, the narrative was much similar. Ayton finished that game with 23 points and 19 rebounds, including six boards on the offensive end.

As for Mitchell and White, their performances Thursday were direct reflections of their showings in Tucson, as the two matched that loss with nine combined fouls.

“Their size wore on us some,” Hurley added. “They had nine (offensive rebounds) in the second half, so that hurts, and the tip-ins hurt.”

The Sun Devils jumped out to an 8-0 run in the first four minutes of the second half, having pushed their largest lead to seven points at 46-39. Ayton, who had only eight points and two rebounds at the time, looked like he would be limited as a non-factor.

Instead, he was patient. He recorded 14 of his 16 rebounds after halftime, an output that allowed 16 team fouls to be called on the Sun Devils in the second half.

“We’ve hung our hat all year on getting to the free throw line way better than our opponent,” Hurley said. “[It was] a huge, huge free throw advantage, especially on the road, for a team to out-shoot a team that in the conference play, led the country in free throw differential with their opponents. It’s something we got to do a better job of.”

In a stellar freshman campaign at Arizona, Ayton has had three games of over 20 points and 15 rebounds. Two of those games have come against Arizona State.

In a game full of successes for the Sun Devils, Ayton’s performance reminded the world that sometimes, it can only take one player to decide the outcome of a game.

Next: ASU Basketball: Early deficit drains Devils late vs. Arizona

“I feel like we emptied the tank,” Hurley said of his team. “It was an entertaining game to watch. It was a high level game at times; I think both teams competed really hard, so it was a fun game to be a part of.”

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