Defense helps ASU basketball upset No. 18 Texas A&M
TEMPE, Ariz. — Saturday night was slated to be the biggest home challenge of the season for Arizona State with No. 18 Texas A&M coming to town.
The Sun Devils were dominant in their first test against a ranked opponent this season, handing the Aggies their second loss of the season with a 67-54 victory.
“It’s exciting to beat a ranked opponent here,” Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley said following the game. “Certainly, it’s a win that kind of sends a message that we’re getting close to what we’re trying to do.“
Texas A&M got out to an early 5-0 start, but that lead would only hold for the first four minutes before back-to-back 3-pointers by Willie Atwood and Gerry Blakes gave the Sun Devils a lead they’d hold on to for the remainder of the game.
“We just wanted to send another statement tonight to let people know that we’re for real,“ Atwood said, echoing Hurley’s thoughts.
Texas A&M entered the game shooting 50 percent on the season but made just 22 percent of their shots in the first half as Hurley’s squad held the Aggies to a season-low 19-points.
“Your defense has to be ready and I thought it was tonight,” Hurley said. “We did a great job holding them to the percentages that we did this game.”
On the other end of the court, the Sun Devils were seeing more success. All eight players who saw time in the first half put up points, and ASU recorded 14 assists on 20 field goal makes.
“These guys are playing very unselfishly,” Hurley said.
Only Kodi Justice had more than six points in the first half, but he was one of five Sun Devils to finish the game in double-figures with Tra Holder, Willie Atwood, Gerry Blakes and Savon Goodman all putting up at least 10 points.
“In my eyes, we’re all stars,” Holder said. “We all feel comfortable playing with each other, so we don’t need to rely on just one person.”
“My coaches and teammates instill confidence in me,” Holder added. “So when I’m out there, I feel comfortable but everybody makes big plays on this team. Willie had a great game, Kodi had the momentum going in the half, so it’s not just me it’s everybody.”
Justice said that having a coach like Hurley who was a player himself gives the team more freedom and poise during the game.
“I think it’s built a lot of confidence in us,” Justice said. “We know there’s eight, nine guys playing and we’re all going to play. Don’t worry if you’re going to miss a shot here or there, just make the next one and move on.“
Hurley said that it’s all part of a system.
“We have a structure in place and we want to let the guys play within the structure and know that if they have an open shot that we have confidence,” he said.
With the win over the Aggies, ASU moves to 6-2 on the year in a nonconference schedule that was projected to be one of the toughest in the nation.
“If you looked at how we’ve played this year, we’ve almost stepped up and played better in these type of games than some of our other opponents,” Hurley said.
That theory will be tested on Saturday when the Sun Devils head to Lexington, Ken., to face the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats.
“The guys were really up for the challenge and now we have to carry over some of that to Kentucky,” Hurley said.