ASU Basketball: Strong start propels Sun Devils over Red Storm

Out of the gates, ASU basketball dominated on nearly every level, clinching a 74-65 win over St. John’s in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.

From the start of pre-game warmups, one thing was entirely evident: Arizona State would take no prisoners against St. John’s.

The Sun Devils jolted from the locker room and began warming up in a routine, methodical fashion. Despite missing the field of 64, there was no reason for them to come out bitter and lackadaisical.

“We were utmost grateful to be selected at that point,” senior Zylan Cheatham said. “It was a lot of stress and anxiety not really knowing if we were going to get in.”

The same couldn’t be said about their opponent — at least, it appeared that way. On the other end of the court, St. John’s loosened, but with substantially less focus. Instead, the Red Storm shot deep threes and competed for the flashiest dunk.

Moments after the opening tip, the product of ASU’s pre-game dedication was on full display. Arizona State soared to an early 24-10 lead and never looked back.

“I really love how we started the game and really took control of the game,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said.

ASU separated itself in the first half with 3-point shooting. As a team, the Sun Devils hit four of six attempts from deep, cashing in at a 66.7 percent clip.

With how well the Sun Devils shot from three, they very well could’ve forced too many long balls. Instead, they rarely took ill-advised shots and spread the ball around the floor.

As a result, the mid-range attack was stellar. The ball movement was crisp in the first 20 minutes. The shots weren’t rushed. Luguentz Dort, Cheatham and Romello White combined for 42 points on 12 field goals, several of which were inside.

In comparison to their opponent, the Sun Devils’ average height was one inch taller than the Red Storm’s. That size differential allowed the group to assert its dominance down low in the early going.

“We did a good job getting in post position,” Cheatham said. “We knew they were going to be a smaller lineup; we tried to take advantage of it.”

On the flip side, the Red Storm’s lackluster warmups appeared to catch up with them. St. John’s shot a dismal 30 percent from the field in the first half and had no answer for Arizona State’s fine-tuned offense.

Even as St. John’s clawed its way back, the early separation proved too costly. ASU was productive enough in the first 20 minutes that it could afford a less-efficient second half. The Sun Devils ultimately won 74-65 — Hurley’s first NCAA Tournament victory as Arizona State’s head coach.

For ASU fans, this had to be refreshing. It proved that all ASU really needs is 15 minutes of well-spread, disciplined basketball. When the Sun Devils can provide that, not many teams can beat them.

But Hurley knows the team shouldn’t just coast to the finish line; it should keep the intensity on full blast until the final whistle.

As time diminished, so did ASU’s productive possessions. The Sun Devils finished with 21 turnovers, 13 of which occurred in the second half.

“I think we were just a little uncharacteristic with just being slightly careless and we had the big lead,” Hurley said. “We’ll look at all the turnovers and try to make some adjustments.”

The further Arizona State advances, so does the difficulty of opponents. ASU now heads to Tulsa where it will face No. 6 seed Buffalo in the first round.

The Bulls lost just three times in the regular season and cruised past its competition in the Mid-American Conference. Their 34-game slate proved they are no joke.

Even so, another disciplined start could launch ASU past another quality adversary.

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