ASU Basketball: Pressure defense sparks offense in win over McNeese State

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 14: Romello White
DAYTON, OH - MARCH 14: Romello White /

ASU basketball turned their athletes loose and forced eight second half turnovers en route to an 80-52 victory over McNeese State.

Uncertainty – the theme of Arizona State’s offseason, expectations, and now, their first two games of the season.

After scraping by a shorthanded Cal State Fullerton in their season opener, the Sun Devils hoped to turn a corner. Instead, back issues gripped the health of starting two-guard Rob Edwards, adding a new name to a nagging list of injuries.

Without him, Bobby Hurley resorted to the inevitable – starting a less-than-100-percent Remy Martin in Edwards’ place. As the rotation grew thinner, so did the need to find another short-term way to win.

In the act, one thing became certain – the Sun Devils haven’t learned how they’ll play offense. Through several possessions in their 80-52 victory over McNeese State, their scoring chances looked like pinball rather than basketball. Misses shot off the backboard before they’d pick up offensive rebounds and would try again and again until the ball went in.

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The newcomers and injuries aside, Hurley knows his team needs a rhythm.

“We have length and we have mobility,” he said. “We’re going to have to play in a variety of ways on offense.”

In the second half, one attempt was moving to the low post. Two of the Sun Devils’ first three possessions came with Zylan Cheatham‘s back to the basket, using his length to elevate over smaller Cowboy defenders.

After a dropstep slam and a trip to the free throw line, Hurley went another route – a fullcourt press. It started as a trap with Cheatham and Luguentz Dort, leading to back-to-back scores by the pair in the open floor.

Soon, the whole team got involved, inviting pressure that remained even ahead by 25. The traps came from the full length of the floor, creating excitement and energy absent from the first half.

“I knew I needed to make something happen,” Cheatham said. “Me and this guy [Dort], we just decided to pick up, change the game, make the guards uncomfortable. Try to speed them up, try to make them play at our pace. And it worked in our favor today.”

Dort, the highly-touted recruit from Montreal, Canada, followed up the highest-scoring debut from a Sun Devil freshman with 25 more points. He started slow, but like Tuesday, his size and strength overpowered an opponent appearing below his level.

“I think I did alright,” he said. “I could’ve shot a little better, but I think we did great as a team.”

With the tempo high, the offense came to life. The Sun Devils shot 55 percent in the second half and 36 percent from the 3-point line. Crisp ball movement led to baseline drives and attacks of zone gaps, allowing their athletes to take over and overwhelm their opposition.

For Hurley, it helped find an identity.

“We want to try and work the paint and get the ball inside and get to the free throw line,” he said. “[We want to] be physical and try to wear some teams down.”

At 2-0, the Sun Devils have temporarily disguised their flaws. Steps are yet to be made, and their potential is far from reached.

For now, they can rest knowing there’s time to improve. In a long season, they’re happy to be on that route.

Next. ASU Basketball: Sun Devil guards outlast Cal State Fullerton in double OT. dark

“When a guys goes down, you got to figure it out,” Cheatham said. “We came together as a team, we switched our lineup and we just made it do.”

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