Sun Devil guards thrive in wild 2nd half, ASU upsets No. 14 Oregon at home
TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State certainly does not want to play at a style that gets out of control. No team really does want to embrace that chaos, but the Sun Devils pretty much had to in a huge game at home Thursday against No. 14 Oregon.
After a physical, testy first half that ASU led 34-23, the Ducks employed a press that pushed the pace of the game. While Arizona State was hit or miss with breaking it, they used it to their advantage by setting up plenty of buckets and matching an Oregon response in a 77-72 win.
The Ducks got what they wanted by more than doubling their point total from the first half (23) in the second half (49). They just didn’t have an answer on the other end for the Sun Devil guards.
That came through Bobby Hurley trusting his ball-handlers more by running less set plays.
“Just giving the guys even more freedom to go off the dribble and we kind of made good decisions,” he said. “Guys cashed out on some shots. Rob [Edwards] had it going from the three.”
Edwards had the best game of his senior year thus far. He tied his season high with 24 points, hitting five of his nine attempts from three-point range.
Junior Alonzo Verge Jr. was not shy as always and the game was a perfect mesh for his playstyle given how open the game was for him to dribble through the press and attack.
“I thought ‘Zo did a nice job,” Hurley said of the team’s ability to overcome the traps in the backcourt. “He’s like a one-man press break. It’s like a car weaving through traffic on the 101 or something.”
“That’s just something I’ve done a lot over my career and I just felt like it was the time to use that now,” Verge said. “I didn’t want to be passive and make a turnover so I just tried to get through the seams and it worked this time.”
He added a game-high 26 points off the bench on 10-of-21 shooting and 17 of those points came in the second half. Most importantly, he was under control with only two turnovers.
A lot of that, especially Edwards, was thanks to ASU’s ball movement. For only the fourth time this season, the Sun Devils had more than 15 assists, with 17, and it was the eighth game this year they’ve had more assists than turnovers (13).
Junior Remy Martin’s scoring wasn’t necessarily there like it has been to make him a contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year, as he only had 11 points. And a shot he took in the mouth that had him exit the game in the first half had even his coach wondering if everything was OK when the star guard returned.
“I think he was fine and I asked him a million questions, but he just wasn’t quite as firey,” Hurley said, who knows his guard better than just about anyone to notice that slight difference.
With that being said, Martin’s presence as a leader breaking the press and doing his usual bulldog work defensively is what ASU needs more than the scoring.
“Remy has got such a strong will to win and he won’t let us lose,” Hurley said.
Edwards credited the ease of the ball-handlers to the way they push each other in practice.
“Me and [Verge], we go at it every day,” Edwards said, hearing Verge’s answer to a question and feeling the need to speak up to add his own two cents.
“[We] talk trash to each other. So when we get on the court (and) he’s got somebody guarding him — it’s not the same. It’s much easier because I’m fouling him, talking to him and then he gets out there and it’s like, ‘He’s giving me too much space.’ So we just go to work.”
Senior forward Mickey Mitchell was the unsung hero of the game.
“All the hustle plays and, again, a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score for Mickey Mitchell,” Hurley said.
Mitchell’s box score of four points, seven rebounds, two assists and three steals wasn’t fair to the large, large impact he had on this game.
The tempo Oregon set in the last 20 minutes benefitted them, where they committed only five of their 16 turnovers. They also mauled the offensive glass on misses, with 14 total offensive rebounds and nine alone in the second half.
Those extra possessions, ASU’s faults on the other end and senior guard Payton Pritchard getting hot was the only way Oregon was in the game. That was to the point where we were somehow tied at 54 with under eight minutes to play.
Arizona State got the lead back up to five with 2:15 to play, when Pritchard inexplicably got his fifth foul reaching in around the logo while Verge did his lane changing on the freeway.
That was just after Pritchard hit an absurd, long three-pointer to cut it back down to five, a shot that halted the momentum ASU was about to use to run away with it.
Any semblance of composure the Ducks had was gone once Pritchard left the floor and ASU’s offense kept rolling to get the win.
Pritchard finished with 18 points.
With the win, ASU is now 9-4 in conference play, tied with Arizona and a half-game out from No. 18 Colorado at 10-4 for the top spot. The team’s six-game win streak in conference play is the first since the 1980-81 season.
The Sun Devils look to make it seven victories in a row at home against Oregon State. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM.