ASU men’s basketball coach Herb Sendek knew he was making a huge gamble when he decided to tweak the starting lineup by replacing junior forward Jonathan Gilling at power forward with sophomore center Eric Jacobsen.
Sendek gave two reasons for the move: to improve ASU’s inside presence by putting Jacobsen next to senior center Jordan Bachynski and to motivate Gilling by giving him a different look off the bench.
Making an adjustment this drastic in the middle of the season can damage a team’s flow more often than help it, but Sendek was confident his players could handle it.
“As a coach, you’re always charged the bottom line to do what’s best for the team,” Sendek said. “In our case, we have really good people, high-character people. Jon is one of them.”
It worked for both players Thursday and Saturday against Utah and Colorado, respectively, two of the best frontcourt teams in the Pac-12.
Before Thursday and Saturday’s games, ASU lost the rebounding margin by 0.8 rebounds a night. With Jacobsen starting against Utah and Colorado, the Sun Devils won the battle of the boards 69-61.
Jacobsen’s presence wasn’t felt on the statline against the Utes, as he only had three points and one rebound. Against the Buffaloes, Jacobsen has six points and six boards.
Jacobsen’s contribution can’t be measured solely by the box score, though. Sendek praised Jacobsen for being a smart player, defending well on the post and the perimeter and the energy he brings to practice and games.
“In his one-plus years with us, I can’t remember him (taking) even one possession off of one practice,” Sendek said.
How much has Jacobsen grown? In one play against Colorado, Jacobsen cleaned up redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson’s missed layup with a tip-slam. It was Jacobsen’s first dunk of his ASU career, and Carson and Gilling joked after the game that Jacobsen never was a dunker.
On a serious note, Carson said Jacobsen’s presence has helped immensely.
“He’s a big body down there,” Carson said. “He takes up a lot of space in the post, and he’s aggressive. Anytime you’re aggressive like that and you bring a lot of energy, it’s going to be a spark for us on the defensive end and the offensive end. … It doesn’t take anything away from us. It just adds a whole bunch to us.”
The game appears to be a lot easier for Jacobsen, as he’s taking a lot more time going to work in the post. Jacobsen admitted that as well.
“Last year, it was really fast taking a big jump from high school,” Jacobsen said. “This year it’s starting to slow down.”
Meanwhile, Gilling has been clearly more effective by coming off the bench, forcing opposing defenses to spread out whenever he enters the game for Jacobsen. Gilling is shooting 9-of-10 from the field and 7-for-7 from the 3-point line. During the weekend, he averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists, which are all greater than his season averages.
Gilling said getting bumped out of the starting lineup hasn’t affected at all. Even though he’s coming off the bench, he’s still playing the same amount of minutes he’s accustomed to playing.
“Nothing changed in my mindset,” Gilling said. “I (just) have to come off the bench, and I’m happy to do it. Whatever it takes, right?”
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