(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
With a much-needed home sweep against Utah and Colorado to get it back on track in the Pac-12 conference standings, Arizona State will only need to continue to improve this next week.
Facing two talented teams in Stanford and California, the Sun Devils will have to take copious notes from Saturday night’s game against Colorado.
Finally providing a balanced scoring attack for the first time this season, ASU was led by its leader sophomore point guard Jahii Carson who scored his 1,000th career point off his first shot in the game. Carson finished with 18 points and six rebounds on the night.
“I think we’re all together in a better flow,” Carson said. “Everybody’s in a good flow with each other and everybody’s trying to get the win and everybody wants to feel the wealth and I think we’re doing a good job of hitting the open man and not being selfish.”
Coming off the bench for the second game in a row, junior forward Jonathan Gilling continued shoot lights out from the field. Finishing with 12 points on 4 of 5 shooting from the field, making all four three-pointers he attempted, Gilling improved his stat line to 7 of 7 from behind the three-point arc in the last two games.
Head coach Herb Sendek commented after the game about how he wanted to continue to keep Gilling on the edge, and to Sendek, that will mean he wants to continue to keep him coming off the bench.
In addition to Gilling, junior guard Bo Barnes has slowly been chipping in for the Sun Devils the last few games. Off the bench, Barnes scored 13 points against Arizona, nine points against Utah and seven points against Colorado.
In the past two games, with the help of Gilling and Barnes, the ASU bench has outscored its bench opponents, 50-16.
With the bench and the starters all finally starting to be productive for the Sun Devils, ASU could emerge as a dark horse in the Pac-12 conference.
After struggling against Utah and being ruled out against Arizona due to a groin strain, senior guard Jermaine Marshall bounced back and scored two huge three-pointers early in the second half to give ASU a commanding lead.
Another big-time player for the Sun Devils is senior transfer Shaquielle McKissic, who only scored seven points on the night against Colorado, but who on the season has 42 assists and just eight turnovers.
This assist to turnover ratio is huge for a Sun Devil team that can’t afford to be sloppy with the ball late in games. Having that reassurance of someone like McKissic, who out on the court that can be a great asset to his teammates and not turn it over carelessly, is a huge plus for ASU.
Turnovers were the story in the first half against Colorado. Combined, ASU and Colorado had 23 turnovers before halftime, compared to the game on Thursday against Utah where the teams combined for 23 turnovers in the entire game.
ASU will need to quickly diminish any sloppy play they have in them before heading off to the Bay area next week. Both Cal and Stanford have talented squads, but if the Sun Devils can steal one on the road, it would give them a slightly larger margin for error down the stretch against tougher Pac-12 matchups.
Senior center Jordan Bachynski continues to be a big presence down low for the Sun Devils, but so is the emerging junior forward Eric Jacobsen who has started the past two games in place of Gilling.
ASU dominated the paint early, Jacobsen grabbed six rebounds in the first half alone—double of what any ASU player had in the first half. Jacobsen was active early, moving his feet and making some crucial defensive stops to give ASU a chance on the other side of the floor.
“I was really pleased with our team’s defensive effort this afternoon,” Sendek said. “I thought out guys played with good effort, good concentration and really helped each other on that end of the floor.”
With the improvement of players across the board, ASU is no longer relying solely on the pay of duo Carson and Bachynski on the court. The other assets that the Sun Devils have gained are key to round out the team and force opponents to guard all five players on the court.
No longer can opponents swarm Carson and leave Gilling, Marshall or Barnes open because they all have the capability of nailing the big-time shots.
“I think everybody has a good spirit, especially with these two wins,” Carson said. “I think everyone’s confidence is pretty high. I know that the practices that we had this past week were good and I think that we’re all on the same page in keeping them, sustaining them, and having good energy in practice. The energy you have in practice is going to carry over to the game.”