ASU Basketball: Physical identity (mostly) returns on ‘Throwback Thursday’

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 19: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during the college basketball game against the Longwood Lancers at Wells Fargo Arena on December 19, 2017 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 19: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts during the college basketball game against the Longwood Lancers at Wells Fargo Arena on December 19, 2017 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

Zylan Cheatham called ASU basketball’s recent struggles “out of character.” But in their 70-67 win over Oregon State, the Sun Devils began to reassert strengths of old.

On a day commemorated to history, the atmosphere in Wells Fargo Arena scattered nostalgia. A full deck of students embroidered an old-time Sparky logo for their promotional shirt, even though the emblem was likely conceived a generation before them. Former fan-favorite Shannon Evans was among the supporters, reliving a journey that eluded him a not-so-long 10 months ago.

The recollections would do their part in eliciting a slew of memories. But for the Sun Devils on the court, ‘Throwback Thursday’ helped reencounter what was lost – a physical, defensive-oriented approach to hand Oregon State its first defeat of the Pac-12 season.

Entering the contest, the Beavers were arguably the league’s hottest team. Led by do-it-all forward Tres Tinkle, Oregon State topped the conference in field goal percentage (46.9) and field goal defense (39.3), building its first 3-0 Pac-12 start since the 1992-93 season.

Meanwhile, Arizona State was funked. The Sun Devils were the league’s bannermen for the first two months, but since, the team had failed to match its wide target with sufficient doses of consistency.

The sum of those parts erupted last Saturday, as a fresh mix of missed free throws, turnovers and gaps in defensive awareness contributed to a disheartening 14-point loss to Stanford. The defeat was the team’s second in conference and fourth in its last seven games, adding more steam to a drop in national ranking, respect and team morale.

As focus shifted to a new week, both coach Bobby Hurley and his team knew something needed to change. Instead of worrying about the opponent, where a loss would place the team or who was going to get their shots up, they needed to rekindle the strengths that exuded their talents.

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ASU did so Thursday night. Bodying Oregon State with initial contact and dissecting its halfcourt defenses, ASU held the Beavers to to 39 percent shooting – their lowest since a Dec. 15 loss to Texas A&M – and found enough offense in a game that saved its Pac-12 title hopes.

“We played the whole 30 seconds (of the shot clock),” said sophomore guard Remy Martin. “For us to stay focused and play through it and make them take a contested jumper or a shot they don’t usually take is how we got going.”

The Sun Devils established its pace early. After the Beavers made four of their first eight shots, they misfired the next eight, as ASU extended a 15-1 run to build a 19-11 advantage late in the half.

In the span, the Devils’ defense looked renewed. Constantly switching screens and shooting the gaps in passing lanes and help-side rotations, Oregon State’s offense was largely perimeter centric, firing forced attempts which allowed the Sun Devils settle in offensively.

While ASU wasn’t great on offense, they had enough time and spacing for control. Taeshon Cherry contributed two of five first-half 3-pointers, a product of eight assists on 11 total field goals, to exceed the Beavers’ 22 points on 26 percent shooting.

The start to the second frame was even better. A 9-0 run from the Sun Devils jolted Oregon State backward, building their largest lead to 18 at 40-22. There, the team looked reminiscent to victories in its 7-0 start, where its strength merely overpowered opponents who became overwhelmed.

The rhythm stayed for some time. Tinkle – who came in leading all conference scorers with 20 points per game, couldn’t break the stance of Zylan Cheatham. Constantly forcing his man to change directions while being unable to accelerate or force through his body, Cheatham held Tinkle to 11 points with 11:20 to go in the half.

At one point, Cheatham shut off a persistent dribble drive from Tinkle, forcing him to kick the ball out for an offensive reset. ASU’s 6-foot-9 senior smiled, shaking his head and saying ‘No, no, no’ as Tinkle couldn’t launch his grasp.

Things did get tight, however. It didn’t feel like it was happening, but Oregon State cut ASU’s lead to single digits with 3:20 (64- 55) remaining, later bringing the score within a single possession with 2:13 to go (64-61). The Beavers’ 9-0 run was capitalized by a resurgence of the 3-point shot, finishing 7-of-15 (46.7 percent) from the outside in the second frame.

But unlike Saturday’s loss to Stanford, the hiccup to Utah or the initial blunder to Princeton, the Sun Devils held tough. A team-first focus helped its players find experienced options down the stretch, as Edwards, Martin and Cheatham scored 19 of ASU’s 22 points in the final 7:54.

Overall, the result was a positive. Despite more struggles from the free throw line (10-of-22), the Sun Devils finished with a solid 3-point percentage (40) while holding its highest rebounding margin (+10) since the win against Colorado (+12).

And like their best performances usually indicate, ASU assisted 15 of its 25 field goals.

With the win, the Sun Devils rekindled a chance to win the conference. Arizona lost to Oregon last night, making a sweep of the Ducks on Saturday an opportunity to close the gap. It also makes Jan. 31’s Territorial Cup that-much-more interesting.

Next. ASU Basketball: Sun Devils sneak past Oregon State. dark

But for now, ASU will take a one-day break, realizing its capabilities still have a high ceiling. The Sun Devils played a perfect game – almost – and it’ll be up to them to assure the momentum doesn’t break.

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