Arizona State basketball salvages week by taking ball away from USC

Jan 20, 2024, 5:11 PM | Updated: 7:06 pm

TEMPE — Arizona State men’s basketball turned up the heat on USC ball handlers by pressing, getting into passing lanes and occasionally just ripping the ball away to force 22 turnovers in a 82-67 win at Desert Financial Arena on Saturday.

Frankie Collins, fifth in the country in steals entering the day, took it away six times in the first half, leading to highlight plays such as a no-look assist to Jamiya Neal and a two-handed jam over his head. ASU (11-7, 5-2) scored 24 points off the turnovers and is a half-game back of first in the conference.

“We don’t really want to run a half-court offense if we don’t have to, we’d rather get out and show our athleticism, show our talent, show our skills,” Neal said. “So defense is offense for us. That’s what we preach. There’s no better way to score than get out in transition, get steals, get stops and get out quickly.”

Combining the takeaways with 14 offensive rebounds, the Sun Devils took 12 more shots than USC (8-11, 2-6) from the field and three more at the free-throw line. Jose Perez led with 20 points, while Collins and Neal each scored 17.

USC entered the game shorthanded with guards Isaiah Collier and Boogie Ellis out with injury, which the Sun Devils understood was an opportunity to press. Kobe Johnson and DJ Rodman had five turnovers each.

Bronny James, the son of LeBron James, had three turnovers with seven points, five assists and four rebounds.

“Coach (Bobby) Hurley did a great job and the whole coaching staff did a great job, they watched the Colorado game, Colorado pressured them and flipped the game around. That’s what we did,” Neal said.

“Can we do that every time and have it look like it did today? Probably not, but it was a part of a necessary game plan in order to beat this opponent today,” Hurley said.

Hurley also said he was a bit worried entering this game.

The Sun Devils were coming off an emotional loss to UCLA on Wednesday in which four technical fouls and a flagrant called against them aided a Bruins comeback victory.

But ASU effectively bounced back without many extracurriculars outside a Hurley tech. The Sun Devils demonstrated exactly what they had in mind for this game to end the first half.

ASU closed it out on an 8-0 run in the final 1:12, scoring six transition points within 32 seconds. Collins stripped the ball and delivered a hockey assist to Neal via Perez. Neal then picked up a long rebound and found Perez for a layup. Finally, Perez poked the ball away, Collins grabbed it and found Adam Miller for a reverse layup and the foul that brought the house down.

“I don’t know if I’ve heard DFA that loud in a long time, the spurt that we went on that was fueled by our aggression on defense,” Hurley said.

USC turned the ball over 15 times in the opening half, contributing to a Sun Devils 43-36 advantage.

The Trojans outshot ASU early and had the size advantage, but Bryant Selebangue was an energizer bunny in the first half with a statline Hurley has not seen much of. He shot 2-for-8 with nine points and 11 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive glass.

The final punctuation mark in this one was a Neal floating jam off a long rebound and assist from Perez to extend the lead to 20 points in the final three minutes.

Frankie Collins’ impact

Collins finished with 17 points on 13 shots, 6 steal, seven assists and three rebounds. He has scored 12 or more points in seven straight games, while Saturday was his fourth time this year with at least five steals.

Hurley credited the well-roundedness and leadership Collins continues to show in Year 2 with ASU, comparing his impact to those of recent standout Sun Devil point guards.

“He’s playing at an elite, all-conference level,” Hurley said. “In terms of production of guys I’ve had in the past like Tra Holder and Remy Martin, he is right in the mix. They’re different types of players, but in terms of having an impact on winning. His defense, the steals, the pass he through to (Alonzo) Gaffney, as the all-time assists leader, I was like, ‘Woah, that was a tremendous pass.’ His dunk in the first half looked like Derrick Rose. He’s really stepped it up to another level. He has complete control of his game out there.”

Great atmosphere

The gym, specifically the student section, was packed for ASU’s final Pac-12 home game against USC.

The student section was 4,325 strong, which was the second largest the program has seen according to Sun Devil Athletics.

“Really excited to have our players have the opportunity to play in that environment,” Hurley said. “The crowd has helped so much, especially when we were trying to really impose our will defensively and take advantage of our speed and our ability to defend full court.”

The student section rained boos down whenever James touched the basketball.

Bronny James

James in his one and only trip to Tempe did not fill up the stat sheet but he handled the press better than most of his teammates and delivered a couple no-look assists with great playmaking feel. He only took six field-goal attempts and made three, including a triple.

He also appeared to hit his head on a sign.

Arizona State basketball upcoming games

The Sun Devils travel northwest to face Oregon on Thursday and Oregon State on Saturday.

Oregon sits atop the Pac-12 standings at 5-1 with a game Sunday at Utah.

“I shared with the team just now that it’s exciting to put ourselves in a position to continue to play meaningful games,” Hurley said. “We’re 5-2 in the league and we’re gonna go play a team that’s most likely going to sit at the top of the standings. So that’s the game you live for, having an opportunity to compete in.”

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