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ASU men’s basketball beats Central Connecticut State by 41

Arizona State guard Rob Edwards looks to recover a loose ball. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

TEMPE, Ariz. — After a season-opener loss to Colorado in Shanghai, China, Arizona State men’s basketball returned to Tempe to play its first game of the season at Desert Financial Arena.

Though the stadium name is different, ASU was back in a familiar environment. More importantly, familiar faces in Romello White and Taeshon Cherry returned from suspension due to violation of team rules as ASU took down Central Connecticut State 90-49.

White sat for the first five minutes before entering the game. In just 14 minutes, he put up 11 rebounds and three blocks and made the sole field goal he attempted.

He dwarfed the other players on the court. White outweighed the heaviest Central Connecticut players by 20 pounds and was the tallest player on the court whenever he was. White had blocks on back-to-back possessions and a team-high in rebounds, and on offense, he drew frequent double teams in the post.

In the second half, White got called for a foul going for an offensive rebound. But, after not having a post presence in the opening game and getting out-rebounded 3-0 in the five minutes before White entered, simply having a guy big enough to get over-the-top calls filled a need for the team.

Perhaps that foul, and lack of offensive production, was in part because he hadn’t practiced with the team in 10 days.

“If this was three weeks ago he would have torn the rim down, but that’s what happens when you miss 10 days of practice,” head coach Bobby Hurley said.

White is an important post face in a sea of newcomers, many of whom are guards.

Freshman guard Jaelen House was a hound on defense, picking up a team-high four steals.

“He was like a defensive back,” Hurley said.

Redshirt senior Rob Edwards, who practices against House: “He’s irritating.”

House was good at anticipating what the ball handler would going to do. On offense, the freshman was able to escape full-court traps and was flashy at the rim. He and freshman forward Jalen Graham completed an alley-oop after escaping one trap situation.

Graham, who started, had 10 points and displayed some good passing ability from the post. On defense, he had active hands and finished with three steals and a block.

That aggressive defense and getting into the passing lane was important as ASU built the early lead. The Sun Devils forced a turnover or blocked each of CCS’s first four possessions and had 32 points off 23 turnovers total.

“It’s definitely one of our strengths if we commit to it and we play with that type of energy on defense,” Hurley said.

 A third newcomer, Alonzo Verge Jr., was a catalyst in the first half before slowing down in the second. In the first half, the two-time NJCAA Div. I All-American, had eight points, second-most on the team, and four assists, a team-high.

He was aggressive on both sides of the ball, jumping into passing lanes and showing no fear on drives or off-balance shots. Verge finished 3-for-10 and missed on all three 3-point attempts, but he’s a viable option in a loaded guard rotation.

Edwards, on the other hand, lit it up from behind the arc. Hurley said he’s recovering nicely from his back injury, and the guard capped off a team-high 15-point first half with a shot Hurley called a “momentum 3” to send it to break. Edwards finished with a game-high 23 on five 3s and 6-for-13 shooting.

Junior Remy Martin played off-ball relatively frequently. He proved as a freshman that he can thrive without being the primary ball handler, but there were times when he was open in the corner and the ball handler simply didn’t see. When he did have the ball, though, Martin continued his habit of penetrating and passing to an open player down low or a shooter. He had three assists in the game.

With all those guards, they’ll have to figure out how to split up ball handling duties. House doesn’t foresee it being an issue.

“We don’t really care. If we get the ball, we get the ball,” he said. “If we don’t, we’re not going to stress over that. We got too many scorers on our team to just be thinking about that.”

It was a win over Central Connecticut State. The Blue Devils aren’t a Pac-12 power. ASU didn’t prove its Colorado loss was a fluke.

But with electric play from the guards and a legitimate front court player in White, the Sun Devils showed they have upside this season.

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