ARIZONA STATE BASKETBALL
Arizona State saves best game of season for First Four of NCAA Tournament
The No. 11 seed Arizona State Sun Devils men’s basketball team saved their best performance of the season for the First Four of the NCAA Tournament.
In fact, the game was only tied for 12 seconds and ASU trailed for just 40 ticks before jumping out to a 13-3 lead over the No. 11 seed Nevada Wolf Pack within the first 3:21 of Wednesday night’s contest in Dayton en route to a 98-73 victory.
That point total marks the most points ever scored in a First Four game in NCAA Tournament history and the 53 points scored in the first half set a new season high for Arizona State.
“It was a complete performance for us. You want to be playing this way at this time of year,” head coach Bobby Hurley told reporters postgame. “That’s what it’s all about.
“I truly believe that our schedule and the games we’ve been in, especially late in the season, prepare you for these types of games. And it was across the board, just everyone contributed. Our defense was outstanding in the first half.”
The Sun Devils capitalized on a 17-0 run and 22-2 run over the first 6.5 minutes to take a 53-26 lead into the halftime break, with ASU’s lead growing to its largest margin of 30 just 13 seconds into the second half. Arizona State also forced 10 of its 11 turnovers in the first 20 minutes of the contest.
As a team, ASU shot a staggering 64% from the field while also hitting 11 three-pointers and going 71% from the free throw line. The 64% metric on 35-of-55 shooting is the highest percentage in the Hurley era.
Compare that to Nevada, who didn’t have a bad offensive night, but couldn’t keep up with Arizona State’s offensive explosion despite shooting 48% from the floor, 86% from the charity stripe and matched the Sun Devils in made three-pointers.
In fact, the Wolf Pack failed to score their first two-point field goal until the 8:39 mark in the first half after starting the game 6-for-10 from the field, with the first six made field goals being from beyond the arc.
“We already play good defense, so that’s what we hang our hats on,” ASU guard Desmond Cambridge Jr. said. “But when our offense is clicking like that, we’re a hard team to stop.”
ASU finished with five players in double figures, with DJ Horne leading the way with 20 points, while Cambridge Jr. and Warren Washington — who both transferred from Nevada this offseason — ended the night with 17 and nine, respectively. The duo also finished with the first- and second-most assists on the team, as Cambridge Jr. had six and Washington had four out of a team total of 21.
“I think when we get off to starts like that, it just feeds on to everybody on the team and builds energy, and I feel like it showed tonight,” Horne said.
Hurley clearly had his guys prepared for the Wolf Pack defense, as they used numerous backdoor cuts for easy buckets that led to a 36-24 paint-points differential. ASU forward Jamiya Neal, who has exploded offensively in the team’s last few games, also contributed with 16 of his side’s 33 bench points.
And despite Arizona State starting point guard Frankie Collins only playing 13 minutes due to foul trouble, Nevada’s Kenan Blackshear was also in the same boat and was limited to just 17 minutes on the court. Blackshear still led his team with seven assists, but guard Jarod Lucas — an Oregon State transfer — saw his production limited to just seven points and two assists thanks to ASU’s stifling defense.
The Sun Devils improve to 13-1 when Devan Cambridge is in double figures (15 points).
Arizona State will travel to Denver to take on No. 6 seed TCU on Friday in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament at 7:05 p.m. on 98.7, the Arizona Sports app and ArizonaSports.com.