ASU mens basketball senior guard Gerry Blakes saw it coming on Sunday night, hours before his team took the floor.
"I seen it in my dreams," Blakes said.
He was going to help lead the Sun Devils to their first victory of the 2015-16 season Monday night, the first under new coach Bobby Hurley. He and the Sun Devils (1-1) did just that, picking up a 83-74 win over Belmont (1-1) in the first regional game of the Legends Classic.
But Blakes couldn't have seen this — a night in which his performance evoked the spirit of the Taylor Swift lyric — as the 6-foot-4 guard shook off his 0-for-4 3-point shooting night against Sacramento State and contributed 22 points on his 22nd birthday.
Just two days before, Blakes and his teammates stood in a gym fresh off of a frustrating 66-63 season-opening loss to Sacramento State. Hurley held what Blakes called the "hardest practice he's ever had," demanding spotless play from his team.
"(It was) punishment," Blakes said. "He was a perfectionist at that moment. Anything that we did wrong, whether it was dribble with the left hand when you're supposed to dribble with the right hand, we're on the line ... Those things just make you alert to want to do the right thing all the time."
Hurley downplayed the practice, but emphasized that there were several miscues to be corrected after the season-opening loss.
"The film session that we had lasted a very long time," Hurley said. "Just dissecting Friday night's game, I think that the guys learned a lot. Our practice really didn't consist of many shots. There was obviously a lot of running and physically demanding, but we're also working on things that went wrong and trying to correct mistakes."
Perfection is not what Hurley got against Belmont, but his team got close enough to earn him his first victory on the job.
Blakes led the response on Monday, going 9-for-16 from the floor while also tallying eight rebounds and three assists. Others, including junior college transfer Andre Spight (15 points, six assists), stepped up in bigger roles to put away a Belmont program that has had NCAA Tournament-level success in recent years.
The senior and former junior college transfer said that adjusting to a new coach for the second consecutive season has been a learning process, one that he must continue to work on with Hurley. Blakes played his first season at ASU last season under former coach Herb Sendek, who was fired after nine seasons.
"With a new team and a new coach, everyone has to get acclimated," Blakes said. "The games are much different than practices, so of course we've got a little jitters, a little nervousness."
Perhaps more impressive than Blakes' performance offensively was his man marking on the defensive side of the ball, where he was tasked with guarding Belmont senior guard Craig Bradshaw.
"We just ran him off the 3-point line," Spight said. "I thought Gerry did a great job guarding him all game, getting into him and making him put the ball on the ground, which he doesn't want to do."
After scoring 18 points and going 5-for-10 from 3-point range in Belmont's season-opening win over Marquette, Bradshaw score just 12 points on 2-for-8 shooting against the Sun Devils.
Blakes said he had more motivation than just numbers to shut down the hot-shooting Bradshaw.
"I think his swagger kind of irked me a little bit, so I took the initiative to try to turn it down a little bit," Blakes said. "I really took that personal on my birthday. I felt like I should have the most swag for the day, but on a serious note I just felt I had to play great defense."
Hurley said Blakes' dedication to the defensive end of the floor helped to turn the tide for his first win as a Sun Devil.
"He loves guarding people, and the challenge," Hurley said. "He saw the film, and Bradshaw is a tough kid who believes in himself. He puts points on the board ... Gerry wanted a piece of him, and did a great job guarding him for us."
For Hurley, Blakes and the rest of the Sun Devils, it's no longer about win No. 1: The Sun Devils host Kennesaw State Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
"It's special (to win) with this group," Hurley said. "Even for our season more so than me personally. For these guys to work the way that worked the way that they have worked, to live for 48 hours with the results of Friday night and be able to respond and beat a good team, I'm proud of the group. We're just looking forward to our next chance on Wednesday."
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