If you would have told me that ASU would have five guys with double-digit points in each of their first two games I would have put money down against it. However, the Sun Devils completed that task in their 97-70 win against Florida A&M. “If you can get five guys to score in double figures, then which guy can you key on?” senior sixth man Chris Colvin said. He has a point, no pun intended, but points are just a small portion of a basketball game and more often than not, the rest of the box score tells the story, as was the case tonight.
Jon Gilling led ASU back from the brink and was easily the game’s MVP. Only leading 57-52 with 11:59 left in the second half and Carrick Felix sitting with four fouls, the Dutchman hit two back to back threes to give ASU back the cushion of a double digit lead. He finished the night with 13 points and 15 rebounds, playing all but four minutes. “I think Jon did a great job,” Jordan Bachynski said. “Last week he was aggressive as he’s been and we need that from him,” head coach Herb Sendek added. “Jon is a pretty big strong kid — he’s no shrinking violet and we need him to do that for our team. … I was really pleased with the effort and the surge that our guys had midway through the second half to pull away.”
If not for Gilling’s work on the glass, ASU might have been in serious trouble. They only out-rebounded Florida A&M by five total boards. Due to their lack of size, Florida A&M played a mix of 3-2 zone and man. Despite zone being a tougher defense to get rebounds due to the nature of gaps in zone, Florida A&M still managed this feat, a very worrisome thought for the future when ASU plays bigger teams. Due to Carrick Felix’s foul trouble ASU had a lack of size on the court at times. They played a lineup that consisted of Carson, Gordon, and Colvin and added to the struggle on the boards. Sendek said, “ I’m very comfortable playing 3 guards.” Chris Colvin admitted though that it does add to trouble to the defensive end (where they were actually out rebounded on the offensive boards 14 to 7.)
In the last 12 minutes it was clear ASU was playing solid team basketball. They passed up good shots for better ones, made smart passes and were unselfish with the basketball. “That’s team basketball,” Bachynski said. “It’s not one star; it’s us, it’s us playing together — playing as one unit. If we can do that instead of playing one on five with a star we’re playing five on five and you can’t key on one guy.”
Also adding to the defensive side of the ball was Evan Gordon who, despite a quiet, eight-point effort offensively, shut down Florida A&M guard Muhammed Abdul-Aleem (WCSN’s match-up to watch) and held him to seven points overall. Coach Sendek also voiced his pleasure for Chris Colvin’s defense against Florida A&M’s leading scorer Jamie Adams, saying it was the difference while Felix sat on the bench with foul trouble. Adams had 17 at halftime but only finished with 24 points. “We didn’t do too good cutting out their heart, which is [Jamie Adams], he got a lot of buckets… but we did a lot better job of pressuring him getting up to him in the second half,” Colvin said.
The Sun Devils looked improved offensively as well. Besides Gilling, Colvin, Carson, Bachynski and Felix were all in double figures. ASU got off to a 17-4 lead due in part to their preparedness for Florida A&M’s 3-2 zone that they came out in early. The Sun Devils showed they know their zone attack principles well. They moved the ball well around the perimeter, exploited gaps and used the short corner to their advantage and also took two charges.
Coach Sendek would have liked to see his team exploit the 3-2 zone with Bachynski more, saying, “We can still do a better job of working inside out.” By playing a 3-2 zone rather than a 2-3, Florida A&M left holes inside that the Sun Devils did not exploit enough throughout the game, settling for more outside shots that were dropping. However, when ASU has an off night shooting, Bachynski will need to get his hands on the ball more.
Jahii Carson led ASU with 20 points (including 16 in the second half) and seven assists, helping Jon Gilling open up the ASU lead with Felix riding the pine. The Sun Devils also improved from behind the arc going 9-18, an improvement from 6-22 against Central Arkansas and shot 84.6% from the free throw line an improvement from the abysmal 52% mark against Central Arkansas.
The Sun Devils are improving no doubt, but have a long season ahead. They have won two games in a row, something Jordan Bachynski pointed out did not happen until the last two games of the season last year. They face their first true test Tuesday night against Cornell in the opening round of the Las Vegas Continental Tire Invitational. The season is young and Bachynski knows it, “We have a lot of things going great for us…this game is a step in the right direction but we’re not there yet.”