Short-handed ASU turns slow start into dominant win against Omaha
TEMPE, Ariz. — Looking for win No. 6 and without key pieces, the biggest question for the Sun Devils was who would provide the spark at Wells Fargo Arena Wednesday night?
Enter Taeshon Cherry and De’Quon Lake.
The duo helped bring ASU out of a first-half hole as the Sun Devils took home the 89-71 win over the Nebraska Omaha Mavericks.
Although it turned out to be 50-40 in favor of ASU, the first half wasn’t exactly what the Sun Devils drew up as Omaha came out fighting right out of the gate.
A big part of that was Omaha’s Matt Pile who had 13 first-half points — he averages 8.3 a game — working down low.
“They scored a little bit too easy in the post, in the paint and that was an issue with our defense, but once we settled into the game, we locked down very well,” head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game. They went to [Pile] a lot and we didn’t handle that in the best possible way that we can.”
Down a first-half-high nine points, ASU head coach Bobby Hurley turned to Lake for a momentum switch. He made the most of his time on the court, scoring on two and-1’s to quickly help tie up the game at 25-25.
In 13 minutes of action in the half, Lake dropped nine points and recorded a team-high seven rebounds in the process.
The other bucket to help get things back to even? Courtesy of Cherry.
“As soon as he committed we knew he could help us, we knew what he would bring to the table, we knew what he was capable of, he’s shown flashes since he stepped on campus,” Zylan Cheatham said of Cherry.
In his first start, Cherry had the hot hand from the tip, going 4-for-5 in the first half (2-for-2 from deep).
“He’s made some great plays, his defense was solid and he adds another dimension to the team,” Hurley said of Cherry. “He’s a guy you can’t leave unaccounted for behind the 3-point line the way he can shoot it.
“It was nice to see him be in a great rhythm on offense.”
Building off the end of the first half, ASU continued to go right at the Mavericks, using a big performance from Cheatham to take home the win. The forward was one assist shy from a triple-double, recording 13 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.
“I thought our stretch from the six- or seven-minute mark in the first half to I don’t know the first seven minutes of the second half was about as good as any consecutive stretch that we’ve played this year so it was exciting to see that,” Hurley said.
“Just the level of defense we were playing through that stretch and just the ball was moving very well and guys were making a lot of plays out there so it was fun to watch.”
Down two starters and a rotation player, the Sun Devils continued to spread the ball around. Four ASU players finished in double figures, while their assists were up to 19 on Wednesday night.
“It was not easy,” Hurley said. “We knew going in the margin was pretty narrow for us not to have key players in foul trouble and we had some ways to work through that if that became the case, but it’s nice when you can count on guys.”
One of those guys was Cheatham, who took over leadership duties.
“Zylan’s approach was unbelievable,” Hurley said. “His patience, his unselfishness, his passing and his defense, he’s a winner and that kid is a heck of a player.
“It’s really great when you have a guy like that out there.”
Although ASU came out on top, it was a rough start for ASU.
Halfway through the half, ASU was down in categories they usually dominate in; time of possession and points in the paint.
Luckily for the Sun Devils, Omaha, who doesn’t possess quite the same firepower as some of the other opponents to give ASU a scare, fell off in the second half, shooting just 38 percent.
HE SAID IT
Cheatham on the team’s first-half struggles and his excitement for the future:
“Today we just came out slow and picked it back up and second half I liked how we came out, we came out very intense.
“We haven’t put together two halves yet and that’s the exciting part of this. We’ve accomplished a lot and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what we’re going to be so I’m just excited for the future.”
STAT OF THE NIGHT
19: Not one, but two Sun Devils scored 19 points in the win over Omaha. Cherry, who had 10 first-half points and Luguentz Dort led all ASU scorers, while Kimani Lawrence was one point shy at 18.
The Sun Devils take on the Texas Southern Tigers at home on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. You can listen live on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.