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Alonzo Verge’s move to bench helped spark ASU’s Pac-12 run

Arizona State's Alonzo Verge (11) shoots a free throw against UCLA during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Three games into Alonzo Verge Jr.’s Arizona State men’s basketball career after transferring from Moberly Area Community College, a wrist injury sidelined him.

He missed the next three games and had a bench role for his next five, until a 43-point outburst in an otherwise ugly ASU loss to Saint Mary’s on Dec. 18.

And after starting six games, he was moved back to the bench. This time, though, he thrived. ASU did too.

Verge was named the Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year on Monday. He led NCAA Divison I in scoring off the bench with 16.8 points per game, and in total over the year, he averaged 14.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

“He’s embraced that role very well,” head coach Bobby Hurley said on Monday. “He’s not a bench guy, he’s just a starter that’s coming off the bench.”

Verge referred to his injury and the next two games in which he had a combined seven points on 3-for-16 shooting as his “lowest point.”

“I’m going to tell you guys a little short story,” Verge said to a group of reporters Monday afternoon. “Mickey (Mitchell), when I first got here and I wasn’t playing good, I didn’t have nobody to rebound for me. He came in the gym and he rebounded for me.

“And I just sat down and I thought about that like, ‘This kid was all over BallIsLife. Had all the things you could possibly think of, and he’s sitting right here rebounding the ball for me. That little situation meant a lot to me because it just showed me how unselfish he was.”

That might’ve played a role weeks later when he was moved out of the starting lineup for good. Verge, twice named an NJCAA Division I All-American, had to learn to defer.

Playing alongside Remy Martin, whether it was in the starting lineup or off the bench, presented a learning curve.

“It was tough because I’m used to having the ball in my hand and controlling the flow of the game, but I love to win,” Verge said. “So whatever I had to do in order for us to win. I was coming into a new setting so I just wanted to try to fit in and do what I had to do.”

Over Verge’s final four starts from Jan. 4-16, Verge shot 18.9% from the field and made less than 25% of his 3-point attempts. And after being moved to the bench, he picked it up immediately.

From Jan. 18 through the end of the season, Verge shot 49.5% from the field and 41.7% from three.

“I just get to see some things that I can correct while being on the bench that guys have to correct in the game, in the flow, in the pace of the game,” Verge said.

During offensive lulls, Verge was often the one to pick the team up. Late in the game, it wasn’t rare to see him attack the rim or get to the free throw line.

“Sometimes it’s not about who’s starting games, it’s about who finishing it,” Martin said. “He’s there, he contributes so much. He’s been a huge help, he’s earned this.”

Verge’s 3-point shooting improved. He became a good finisher at the rim and fearless against bigs as he made decisions while in the air.

“I never know what it’s going to be until I get into the air and they react,” Verge said.

As the team’s chemistry grew and Verge improved and learned how to play next to Martin, ASU became one of the better teams in the Pac-12. So it’s no coincidence that ASU’s stretch of nine wins in 10 games started the game Verge moved to the sixth man role.

That’s not going to last, though. With Rob Edwards graduating, Hurley has an easy decision to make for next year’s starting guard next to Martin.

“He’s not going to be in this role too much more,” Hurley said.

The Sun Devils, who have a first-round bye in the Pac-12 Tournament, play against the winner of Colorado and Washington State in the quarterfinals on Thursday. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m.

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