(Photo: Tyler Rittenhouse/WCSN)
No. 20 ASU built on its Thanksgiving tournament momentum as it beat San Francisco 75-57 in its first game as a ranked team in over eight years.
“I was very concerned about (this game) because of the layoff and also just what we accomplished last weekend and the bounce-back effect,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “I’m not completely surprised that we didn’t play at our best level on offense but did enough things very well to keep the game at a safe margin for most of the game.”
The Sun Devils looked like they would dominate the game after an early first-half charge led by freshman Remy Martin and senior Kodi Justice.
ASU was ahead 9-6 before going on a 16-0 run, sparked by Martin scoring on consecutive possessions and setting up freshman forward Romello White for an easy layup on the third.
Justice added four points during the run and finished the half with 12- the only player from either team to score double figures in the first half.
San Francisco chipped away at the deficit with the help of sloppy passing by ASU. The Dons scored 10 of their 25 first-half points off Sun Devil turnovers. Still, ASU led 40-25 at halftime.
“Especially early I thought we were playing really fast and using our speed on defense and speeding them up some,” Hurley said. “Even the open shots they had early in the game were after they had to work through pressure in a possession.”
In the second half, scoring came at a premium in the first few minutes before the teams started going back and forth.
White was the go-to option for the Sun Devil offense on a bad shooting night for senior guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II. He was fouled on most of his shots and finished the night with 16 points on 4-5 shooting from the field and 8-16 shooting on free throws, also adding 13 rebounds for a double-double.
“It makes you just want to go harder at them,” White said of USF’s struggle to defend him. “If I feel like they’re not really good in the post, not really good defending I just tell (my teammates) ‘look for me’ because I’m going to go at them.”
San Francisco stayed relevant, as consecutive unanswered threes by sophomore forward Remu Raitenen and junior guard Frankie Ferrari cut the Dons deficit to 12 with around 4:30 to play.
Late foul trouble doomed the Dons though, as three of their players fouled out and ASU made 19-28 second-half free throws, including 8-8 from Holder and Evans in the last four minutes to ice the game.
“If you’re thinking about the right things and winning games then you’re going to push through in a sub-par offensive game and find a way to beat your opponent,” Hurley said. “I think that’s what we did tonight.”
Although it was ASU’s lowest point total of the season, each of the four guards finished with 12-15 points, making it the most balanced game offensively this season.
“It’s good for everybody,” Hurley said. “It’s good for the morale of the team.”
The team also held San Francisco to 57 points, its top defensive performance in this young season.
“I was really pleased with the energy we defended with especially in the first half,” Hurley said. “Really across the board throughout the game our defensive numbers were very good.”
ASU’s next game is Friday against St. John’s at 5 p.m. from the Staples Center.