The 2018-19 season came to a close for ASU basketball at the NCAA Tournament, falling 91-74 to Buffalo in the Round of 64.
Five minutes into Arizona State’s first round contest against Buffalo, Bobby Hurley appeared to have the upper hand over Bulls coach Nate Oats.
As the selection committee pitted another head coach against a former assistant, the Sun Devils held a 10-8 advantage by the first media time out, utilizing a breakneck pace to speed up a Buffalo team that regularly starts four guards. At the intermission, the Bulls were shooting 3-of-9.
While Hurley had an early edge and a roster filled with four-star talent, it was Oats, a protégé of the former Buffalo coach, who made the better in-game adjustment, putting forward Nick Perkins onto the floor out of the break.
A senior, Perkins provided a team-high 21 points and 10 rebounds, serving as the catalyst to the Bulls offensive attack. At 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, he could stretch the floor as far as the perimeter, attacking the Sun Devils’ versatile frontcourt off the dribble and in the post.
Fitting, a player Oats helped recruit to western New York before Hurley left for ASU proved to be the X-factor on Friday.
“He’s a man out there,” Hurley said of Perkins. “For a big strong guy, he had such a soft touch and he made some big plays on offense for Buffalo and provided a real physical presence.”
It was a performance highlighted by edge, the type of sting the Sun Devils tend to embody as one of the top rebounding teams in the country. But foul trouble sidelined freshmen Luguentz Dort and Taeshon Cherry in the first half, forcing ASU to search for a new identity, one it was unable to locate.
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With Dort and Cherry on the bench and guard Remy Martin (groin) not fully healthy, Buffalo went into the locker room ahead by 13 points. Yet, the more staggering statistic of the first 20 minutes was the Bulls’ edge on the glass.
ASU was outrebounded 42-26 for the game, securing six fewer boards in the first half. Oats’ team capitalized, scoring 16 second-chance points on the afternoon.
Still, as they’ve done 21 times under Hurley, there was a sense of belief that the Sun Devils could mount a second-half comeback.
That hunch was confirmed when redshirt senior Zylan Cheatham opened the half with a dunk, followed by two consecutive layups by Romello White, cutting the deficit to nine.
The Sun Devils never got any closer.
Layups from Davonta Jordan and Jeremy Harris were complemented by a 3-pointer from CJ Massinburg, capping a 7-0 that extended the lead back to 16.
Harris matched Perkins with 21 points while Massinburg, the MAC Player of the Year, chipped in 18 to send the Bulls to the Round of 32.
“It’s March, win time. These guys are big time winners as you can get,” Oats said of his seniors. “They know when it’s time to show up.”
To some, a 17-point loss in the NCAA Tournament blemishes a 23-win season for ASU. For the second-place finishers in the Pac-12, doubters might even add that the Sun Devils failed to meet expectations with the conference experiencing a down year.
Just don’t tell that to Hurley.
“They have taken another big step for Arizona State basketball,” he said.
At the forefront of the next step was Cheatham, a fifth-year senior and Phoenix native who opted to return home in his final season of eligibility. In the loss, the wing poured in a game-high 22 points before fouling out with 2:06 to play.
“Obviously, I ended on not the most ideal situation.” he said. ‘I hope my fans and I hope the city remembers me in a positive light.”
A triple-double, multiple 20-rebound games and an NCAA Tournament win later, Cheatham’s legacy is unquestioned and will live on within the program.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.