Home sweet home: ASU men's basketball excited to be back at Wells Fargo Arena

Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice have broken out of their slump just in time for ASU's Pac-12 home opener Thursday

Road trips come with a number of downsides for any team – unfamiliar beds, airports and repetitive meals. The No. 11 ASU men's basketball team is coming home to Tempe after a long three-game road trip in which it notched only one win. 

For someone like senior guard Kodi Justice, who was raised in Arizona, seeing family might be refreshing after being away for eight days while senior guard Shannon Evans II may have felt a sense of regularity coming back to Tempe just as classes resumed after winter break. 

For head coach Bobby Hurley, who has been a player and coach for over 20 years, coming back to Wells Fargo Arena is just what his team needs.

“I think they (the players) enjoy the home surroundings,” Hurley said after practice on Tuesday. “The ball was going into the basket quite a few today so it’s just nice to be back, back in our routine, practicing here – it was a long week, a long eight days ... I think the guys are enjoying that and getting back to class this week too, so we are getting some students back on campus so it’s good.” 

The Sun Devils opened up conference play 1-2, losing to No. 17 Arizona, being upset by Colorado in overtime and barely carving out a three-point win over Utah on Sunday night. 

Many people in college basketball believe Colorado has the nation’s best home-court advantage due to the elevation, and opponents hardly win at UA's McKale Center, but ASU managed to take each team to the wire. 

The lead for numerous stories this week referenced how the Sun Devils (13-2, 1-2 Pac-12) dropped in the polls to No. 11 (they were No. 4 last week), but like any good coach would do, Hurley looked at the positives of the road trip. 

Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice break out of slump

Evans II and Justice had disappointing games against Arizona and Colorado – they combined to shoot 25 percent from the field in both losses. Evans II failed to make a three in either game, while Justice only attempted three shots inside the three-point line. 

However, that all changed against Utah. 

Evans II took matters into his own hands after all three ASU big men fouled out, exploding for 22 points and knocking down 5-of-7 jumpers from long-distance. When asked how it felt to break out of his slump, Evans II said, with a smile on his face, "it felt great."

“It was tough for me, obviously,” Evans II said. “I’ve been in the gym almost every night, getting up shots ... my work ethic stayed the same – the game shots weren’t falling for me. So mentally it was kind of tough, but I got great teammates around me, a great coaching staff, so they all kept me level headed." 

Justice, who is known for his three-point range, finished with 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting (1-for-6 from three), adding two steals and had the first in-game dunk of his career at ASU.

 

Playing against a zone defense

On ASU’s first possession of almost every game, it isn't uncommon for its opponents to set up in some type of zone, which seems to be the source of the Sun Devils' struggles. 

Arizona switched from a man-to-man coverage to a 1-3-1 zone and held Justice and Evans II to a combined 13 points as the Sun Devils lost by six. 

Colorado played a 2-3 zone for most of the game, prompting the same offensive challenges for Hurley and Co., as they shot 36 percent from the field and 27 percent from three. 

But with experience comes comfort – the more the Sun Devils see zone defenses, the better feel they have for it. 

“We have to figure out ways to get easier shots,” Justice said. “But I still feel like we are getting good shots. We are getting to the rim – we are getting to the free throw line. We just have to keep working through it.” 

After losing back-to-back games, the Sun Devils finally worked through their zone defense troubles in their win against Utah.


Preparation for the Pac-12 Tournament

Despite poor shooting nights, constant traveling and elevation difficulties, ASU has managed to prove its legitimacy in the Pac-12. If this was a testament to what they will see come March, Hurley is all for the preparation. 

“It’s a good feeling to have gotten three of them done with, already knowing that you have 15, and nine of those 15 are at home,” Hurley said. “Utah is a top-60 team right now, so to get a road win against a top-60 team is big for us as we move forward to the conference (tournament).” 

Up next

No. 11 ASU vs. Oregon (11-5, 1-2)

Where: Wells Fargo Arena

When: Thursday, Jan. 11 at 8 p.m. MST 

TV: FS1


Reach the reporter at fcorral1@asu.edu or follow @felipecorraljr on Twitter.  

Like State Press Sports on Facebook and follow @statepresssport on Twitter


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.