Lobos provide defensive test for men’s basketball

LOOKING UP: ASU junior Trent Lockett goes for the reverse layup during the Sun Devils’ loss to Pepperdine on Tuesday. ASU faces a stern test on Friday against New Mexico, who is already 3-1. (Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

If scoring came at a premium against Pepperdine for the ASU men’s basketball team, it won’t get any easier with New Mexico rolling into town Friday at Wells Fargo Arena.

Coming into the season, the Sun Devils (1-1) had to figure out a way to replace the scoring efforts of graduates Jamelle McMillan, Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott.

Coach Herb Sendek adjusted the offense to fit his personnel. He noticeably installed an up-tempo transition attack on offense called “burn” and incorporated pick-and-roll plays — which the players asked for — among other things in the Sun Devils’ zone offense.

The players were unanimously pleased with the changes. As Sendek put it, and the players echoed it, the offense gives ASU “as much freedom to play as anyone could possibly have.”

It’s still extremely early in the season, but the shooting struggles on offense, particularly against Pepperdine, have had the biggest impact in the Sun Devils’ play.

“I do not think our defense contributed to our suffering as much as our offense clearly did,” Sendek said. “Even when we fell behind, for the most part our energy was really good and our coverages fairly good.”

A poor start offensively hurt the Sun Devils Tuesday in their loss to the Waves 66-60. Against mainly a 2-3 zone that would often switch to a man-to-man defense, ASU was 8-for-22 from the field in the first half.

Junior guard Trent Lockett said the slow start triggered a snowball effect. The Sun Devils shot 34 percent in the game.

“It’s just unfortunate the way we came out,” Lockett said after Tuesday’s game. “We have to improve in a lot of different areas to continue to have the season that we hoped for coming into the season.”

The lack of ball movement by ASU guards Chris Colvin and Keala King, which Sendek said is the one thing that must happen offensively, led to playing time for freshman walk-on Max Heller. His stats weren’t eye-popping in six minutes — an assist and turnover — but Heller did what the others weren’t doing and could see game action again Friday.

“The ball sticks too much right now or we dribble it too much,” Sendek said. “One thing Max does is he really facilitates ball movement.”

The Sun Devils didn’t get much help from their three big men offensively. Forwards Kyle Cain and Ruslan Pateev had trouble scoring in the post. It allowed sophomore forward Jordan Bachynski, who scored two of the three baskets by the trio, to get his first action of the season.

“We didn’t get a lot of production,” Sendek said. “In part, we didn’t do a really good job of throwing it inside. On some instances that we did, we didn’t convert.”

On he flip side, New Mexico (1-1) didn’t get much from its frontcourt either during a wake up call of its own Wednesday, losing to New Mexico State, 62-53.

Senior forward Drew Gordon, who was picked as the Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year, went 0-for-4 with two points. Senior forward A.J. Hardeman matched Gordon’s point total, two, in 31 minutes. Both starters dealt with foul trouble throughout the game, ending the game with four a piece.

“(Gordon) was very, very disappointed,” sophomore guard Tony Snell said after the game. “He was like really mad. I don’t blame him because we played bad too. You just can’t just blame one player, it’s the whole team.”

New Mexico is adjusting to life after first-team All-Mountain West point guard Dairese Gary, who set a school record for a scholarship player with 98 career wins.

It had to deal with shooting woes of its own Wednesday as it put up 53 points against the Aggies at home. New Mexico shot 28 percent from the floor. Coach Steve Alford said his team couldn’t find a rhythm especially in the second half.

“We have a lot of options out there for point guard, but I think it was a glaring deal tonight that we just haven’t been able to create a point that can (the) control offense and get us in and execute an offense yet,” Alford said after the game. “And that’s going to be a work in progress. We’ve got to continue to work to try and find out who that’s going to be.”

The Lobos’ first road game this season will also be the return of redshirt sophomore Demetrius Walker, who transferred from ASU after his freshman year.

Walker sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Walker is averaging 10 points and 18 minutes in two games this season for New Mexico.

“I’m glad it’s working out for him and it’s working out,” Sendek said.

In 23 appearances as a Sun Devil, Walker averaged four points and 10.5 minutes per game. With friends and family surely in attendance to watch the Phoenix St. Mary’s High alumnus, Walker will have a chip on his shoulders as he returns to Tempe.

“We know he’s going to try and come out and show ASU fans what they missed,” Lockett said.

Reach the reporter at master.tesfatsion@asu.edu

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