Standout games from Luguentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry led ASU basketball to their second straight Thanksgiving title in Las Vegas, defeating Utah State 87-82.
In his first five collegiate games, Luguentz Dort has been a one-man wrecking ball. Constantly in pursuit of the rim, his 6-foot-4, 200 pound frame has operated as a brick wall that’s sent defenders flying in all directions – a lot for the better, but sometimes for worse.
There’s no doubt that his per-game marks have been astounding. Through five contests, he leads the Sun Devils in scoring (23) and is second in rebounds (7.8). Though he hasn’t failed to impose his will, there has been one weight blocking Dort’s brawn – himself.
Prior to tonight’s 87-82 victory over Utah State, Dort shot the ball 70 times in four games. Only 29 of those attempts were makes.
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While he could bruise by defenders, Dort hadn’t been able to decide when to best use his strength. Help-side defenders keyed on his drives, and while he could get a shot off, it maybe wasn’t the best idea to keep challenging the trees of two, three or maybe even four defenders.
Even so, coach Bobby Hurley felt his freshman star would figure it out. After shooting 50 percent against the Aggies in the first half tonight, the Canadian phenom played a near-perfect second period, scoring 19 of his 33 points on 5-of-5 shooting while hitting eight of his nine attempts from the free throw line.
Dort’s impact was key during a second-half stretch where ASU hit nine of 10 shots to balloon their lead to nine points. He accounted for 14 of the Sun Devils’ 20 points during the span, making an impact as a playmaker and a scorer.
While Dort had his best game in a Sun Devil uniform, the story of Wednesday’s game could go to another freshman – Taeshon Cherry. After being a non-factor in his first four games, Cherry broke through with a 15-point outing on 5-of-7 shooting, showing confidence he’d been lacking since succumbing to a knee injury in the preseason.
During ASU’s 22-10 second half run, Cherry had a sequence where he made a 3-pointer, raced back and stuffed a layup from the Aggies’ John Knight III on the top of the backboard.
Two possessions later, the freshman received an outlet pass from De’Quon Lake, charged the rim and threw down a right-handed slam with a Utah State defender in his grill. For the first time, the second-pride of Hurley’s recruiting class had his swagger back.
As a team, the Sun Devils broke through an uphill battle from the first half. Trailing for all but five minutes and 35 seconds of the opening frame, they struggled to crack the methodical gameplan of Utah State, who even outrebounded ASU 18-16.
After the Aggies opened shooting 5-of-13 (38.5 percent) from 3-point range, ASU’s second-half adjustments forced quicker possessions and decision-making, allowing them to force 16 turnovers, score four buckets in transition and get to the free throw line 23 times.
At 5-0, ASU has a chance to be ranked in the AP Top 25 next week. The Sun Devils, along with No. 17 UCLA, are one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the Pac-12.
With the Bruins facing Michigan State tomorrow, there’s a chance ASU could be the conference’s final unbeaten team for the second straight season. While this year’s team was projected to peak late, they’re starting to find the right ingredients, even without junior transfer Rob Edwards.
Last season taught us not to rush into anything. But for now, this team is once again on their way to great success.