Arizona State basketball’s offense is slowly piecing itself together

Dec 1, 2023, 1:22 PM

Head coach Bobby Hurley...

Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils speaks with his team during at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The Arizona State men’s basketball team is figuring everything out – slowly but surely.

After splitting two games against No. 19 BYU and Vanderbilt at the Las Vegas Showdown on Nov. 23-24, head coach Bobby Hurley emphasized that the Sun Devils could perform better offensively.

“This is what a really good team looks like right now at this stage in November, and we’re not there yet so we have to get better and do what we can to facilitate that,” Hurley said of BYU on Tuesday. “The puzzle is not complete.”

It’s the 77-49 blowout loss to BYU that opened the eyes of players and coaches, inciting them to play harder. Practice harder.

“BYU punched us in the mouth. No talking about it,” Arizona State forward Jose Perez said. “They’re a really good team, but we’re a really good team I feel like, we just haven’t played up to our potential just yet. And I feel like BYU started that, showing us that we need to play hard on both ends.”

The Cougars had eight returning players from last season, compared to the Sun Devils’ three (Frankie Collins, Alonzo Gaffney and Jamiya Neal). Hurley acknowledged that the Sun Devils are still “a work in progress” with sharing the ball and building unity.

The team has been working to get Perez the ball more. In addition, Gaffney has been excelling in his return from an ankle injury, averaging 1.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game and proving to be a dominant force in the defensive scheme.

The team’s recent efforts paid off as the Sun Devils beat the Sam Houston Bearkats 78-61 on Wednesday. It was an impressive win over a team that finished 26-8 in 2022-23 and looking to replicate that success.

The Sun Devils shot 51.6% from the field, marking back-to-back games in which they have reached the 50% threshold (51.8% against Vanderbilt).

“We scrapped the battle tonight. Proud of my team, this was a dangerous game,” Hurley said Wednesday. “We’re still finding ourselves, it’s still not the entire way there. As we hopefully add pieces that aren’t available right now … over the next few weeks, I think we have a chance to incorporate those guys and have a chance.”

It’s been a steady incline. The team shot 32.1%, 36.8% and 41.3% in its first three games against Mississippi State, Texas Southern and UMass Lowell before hitting that roadblock against BYU, shooting 33.3%.

Jose Perez has played a big role

Perez has been a big part of the team’s recent offensive surge.

Due to a foot sprain sustained against UMass Lowell, Shawn Phillips Jr. has missed the last three games, allowing Perez to get incorporated more with the offense.

“Without Shawn Phillips, (he) was a guy that I thought based on the whole summer, we’d be able to throw it inside to him, play through him some inside out,” Hurley said. “But Jose has kind of taken more of that role to do that and he could (get) very creative, crafty around the basket.”

While Phillips is a center and Perez is a guard, Phillips’ absence allows more space in the paint with more floor spacers.

Nonetheless, Perez is averaging 46.8% from the field and is leading the team in points (72) this season. He’s also spreading the ball around, averaging 2.8 assists a game. It’s something Hurley wants to see from all of his players.

“Jose makes good decisions in transition,” Hurley said. “He rewarded Gaffney with a lob when he could have probably taken the shot himself. So we just need more sacrifice like that.”

The Sun Devils acknowledge that the season is still young. With conference play creeping up, their goal is to just take it step by step.

It’s a long season. Just get 1% better every day, that’s all we gotta do,” Neal said. “We don’t have to look our best right now. It’s a very long season. So we’re just trying to get 1% better every day.”

Arizona State looks to avenge last season’s loss as they take on the San Francisco Dons (5-2) on Sunday. Tip off is at 1 p.m. at Desert Financial Arena.

The game will be on ESPN 620 AM, 98.7 HD-2 and the Arizona Sports app.

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