ASU Basketball: Taeshon Cherry returns for important road stretch

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils looks on against the Purdue Boilermakers in the first half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils looks on against the Purdue Boilermakers in the first half during the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 6, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

With five of its last seven games on the road, ASU basketball hopes the return of Taeshon Cherry will help maintain a winning mindset.

On Saturday, Zylan Cheatham called Bobby Hurley a ‘lunatic’ for the second time. One week after a self-inflicted absurdity of sprints, the madness of Arizona State’s coach had become player-oriented, not letting his team take a shot throughout Friday’s practice.

But after a 75-63 win against Washington, where the Sun Devils shot a season-high 62 percent and handed the Huskies their first Pac-12 loss, Hurley didn’t oppose anyone from trying to score the ball this week.

“That was just a gimmick,” he explained Tuesday morning.

For the short term, Hurley’s scheme worked. Now entering a stretch with five of its final seven contests on the road, ASU (16-7, 7-4 Pac-12) can’t afford to lose focus again. The Sun Devils are in a three-way tie for second in the Pac-12 standings, and their hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament hang by a thread.

As critical matchups ensue with Colorado and Utah, Hurley hopes his team won’t require a similar jolt like Thursday’s loss to Washington State.

“You can’t just do that because, ‘Coach is mad we didn’t play well two days earlier,’” he said. “You have to find a way to have the mindset and the chip on the shoulder to play that way all the time.”

Thankfully, the Sun Devils are getting a boost in their lineup. Freshman forward Taeshon Cherry is cleared to play this week, per his Twitter account, after missing last week’s games with re-aggravated concussion symptoms.

More from Devils in Detail

According to Hurley, Cherry will likely be available for tonight’s game at Colorado, but will receive further evaluation leading up to shootaround. If he plays, the Sun Devils will receive much-needed perimeter versatility and defensive energy.

Either way, the team knows it needs to be at its best to secure a top-4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament.

“We’re focusing on winning as many games as we can,” said sophomore forward Romello White. “(I’m) trying to be a good teammate by playing hard and being efficient as much as I can. (I’m) just trying to go hard for my teammates.”

Here’s what else stood out from Tuesday’s availability.

Romello White’s Importance

Normally a silent, diligent worker, White perked up when asked how his post presence affects ASU’s play.

“When I get started early, I feel like it opens up the floor for everybody else,” he said. “If they try to focus on me, then we kick out, [and] we have driving lanes.”

In Saturday’s win against Washington, a post-centric approach helped the Sun Devils open up scoring. Once Cheatham caught the ball in the middle of the Huskies’ 2-3 zone, White took advantage of matchups against Noah Dickerson and Sam Timmins, finishing with hook shots and dunks en route to 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting.

Of ASU’s 23 games, the 6-foot-8 forward has reached double figures in 11. And in such contests, the Sun Devils are 9-2.

White was often limited in Pac-12 play last season with foul trouble and issues catching the ball. Now an integral part of ASU’s scoring and rebounding, his activity will likely continue to dictate how the Sun Devils perform.

“It gives us another guy around the basket that can make things happen,” Hurley said. “We can drive it and get there with Lu (Dort) and Remy (Martin), of course. And then we got guys on the perimeter that can hit shots, and then Zylan does a little bit of everything.

“To get a guy that you can throw it inside to, that can catch and finish, that goes after the ball on the offensive glass, when he’s doing all those things, we’re definitely a better team.”

Finding the Edge

Saturday’s win gave ASU its fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season, which is two more than any other team in the Pac-12. However, Thursday’s loss to the Cougars was its second Quadrant 4 loss, dropping the Sun Devils to No. 71 in the NET Rankings.

At 7-4, ASU is in position to secure a first round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament. But with two games separating teams ranked two through 10 in the conference, the margin for error is slim, especially on the road.

“We have to rely on all our tough games we’ve played,” Hurley said. “Every one of them is like that now. We got to have a ‘single elimination’ mentality to every game, like it’s our last game. Five of the last seven are on the road, so we got to be better and confident and play great basketball to win.”

Coming off big victories, ASU has a tendency to underperform against its next opponent. In the past, it’s affected the team’s mentality, but White senses a change.

“Sometimes, we may win the big game and then we’ll slack off in practice and we’ll mess around and lose a game we’re not supposed to,” he said. “(We’ve been) focusing on our ball screen defense. Colorado likes to do a lot of ball screens and likes to get people messed up (there).

“We’ve been trying to go hard every practice, even if it’s skill work. We practice as hard as we can.”

ASU Basketball: 2019 Pac-12 Week 15 Power Rankings. light. More

Tonight, ASU will look to continue its winning mentality, facing the Colorado Buffaloes, who have won their last three games. The game will tip off from the CU Event Center in Boulder at 8:30 p.m.

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