(Photo: Tyler Rittenhouse/WCSN)
At halftime, ASU men’s basketball trailed San Diego State 40-34, struggling to find an offensive rhythm and failing to consistently rotate on defense.
In the second half, the Sun Devils exploded offensively and walked off the court with a 90-68 victory. It was in the second half that ASU displayed its potential on both ends and showcased significant improvement from last season.
Much of that improvement can be attributed to the men in the middle. Redshirt freshman Romello White and junior De’Quon Lake filled the lane for ASU, gobbling up 22 combined rebounds and allowing the Sun Devil guards to get out in transition.
White finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds in his collegiate debut, while Lake put up 15 points on 7-of-7 shooting. When they played together, ASU was dominant on the boards.
Tra Holder, who led ASU with 24 points, said having a post presence makes he and fellow senior Shannon Evans’s jobs much easier.
“They’re such a big presence in the post and on the defensive end,” Holder said. “The (other) team has to honor them and make sure they’re not scoring.”
This is a visibly different Sun Devil team from last year. With White and Lake down low and Remy Martin providing a spark off the bench in the backcourt, this group has myriad scoring options and consistently competes on the glass. ASU is just scratching the surface of its potential, too, with Mickey Mitchell and Kimani Lawrence sidelined until December.
When those two get back, the Sun Devils are nine-deep and boast one of the most potent scoring offenses in the Pac-12. That potential was on display in ASU’s second half run.
“I thought Shannon and Tra, early in that second half, really got us going,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “It was just great to see and watch the second half and watch guys like Romello White rebound and score inside… and De’Quon as well.”
The Sun Devils’ increased offensive efficiency in the second half was a collective effort. They shot 67 percent because they executed Hurley’s gameplan and got out in transition more frequently than the first half. Hurley’s offensive philosophy involves fast-paced play along with rapid ball and player movement. ASU executed it to near perfection in the final 20 minutes.
“The only negative thing I can really say is that we had a little stretch in the first half where we over-dribbled some,” Hurley said. “It was a great learning experience to come back from that adversity.”
It was a comeback of sorts for White as well, who saw his first action as a Sun Devil after sitting out a full season and remaining ineligible for ASU’s first game against Idaho State. It’s clear that White will be integral to this team’s success so long as he remains eligible.
White said it was “amazing” to get back on the court and make an impact. The wait was agonizing for him as competitor.
“It was real difficult — especially in the beginning,” White said. “I was just real down, really in a bad place. After a while I talked to some guys on the team who had to redshirt and they told me, ‘play hard, and next year it’ll be worth it.'”
Next up for the Sun Devils (2-0) is a home game Friday night against Northern Arizona. If ASU can bottle up its second half performance from Tuesday, it could be a long night for the Lumberjacks.