It wasn’t supposed to be this close, or quite as nerve-wracking, but ASU basketball got the job done Tuesday night as they collected their first win of the season in a 102-94 double overtime victory over Cal State Fullerton.
Freshman Luguentz Dort led the way for the Sun Devils, scoring 28 points to go along with his nine rebounds. For the Titans, senior Kyle Allman Jr. poured in 33 points to keep Cal State Fullerton close all night long.
“I thought it was great the way we battled,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “We had a lot of adversity and there’s a lot of things to clean up and get better at, but I’m proud of the way the guys figured out a way to stay in the fight and get a victory.”
Dort was the obvious star of the show Tuesday night, establishing himself late in the fourth quarter as the Sun Devils go-to scorer. His tenacity and aggressiveness getting to the rim is unparalleled, and his 28 points were the most ever for an ASU freshman in a season opener.
Becoming a true weapon out of the pick-and-roll is a skill most college guards take years to develop, but Dort’s innate understanding of angles and penetration make him an impact force from day one. It comes as no surprise that the Sun Devils were plus-11 with Dort on the floor, second only on the team to sophomore Kimani Lawrence, who was plus-22.
“I was a little nervous about my first college game,” admitted a sheepish Dort. “I talked to Coach Hurley though and the other staff and they told me to calm down and that the game’s going to come to me. So in the second half, everything was good for me.”
Despite the victory, there were a host of different problems plaguing ASU Tuesday that will have to be addressed going forward. The lack of inside presence was glaring throughout, as the guard tandem of Allman and senior Khalil Ahmad were able to get to the rim on command.
The duo of Allman and Ahmad for Cal State Fullerton combined for 64 points, and multiple times came within inches of putting away ASU for good. Both players consistently beat their man off the dribble, and were met with little opposition near the basket. A whopping 45 percent of the Titans points came in the paint, compared to only 39 percent for the Sun Devils.
“Defensively some of the issues were them making plays and being playmakers,” Hurley said. “I thought our transition defense in the second half wasn’t as strong as it was in the first half, but I thought we defended well.”
The Sun Devils were also poor from the free throw line, garnering 44 attempts but only knocking down 26 of them for a Shaq-esque 59 percent. No one player was particularly egregious, but both Dort and redshirt senior Zylan Cheatham went 7-13 from the line.
It’s only one game, but it’s hard not to be concerned about the play from redshirt junior Rob Edwards. While a 4-15 shooting performance is disconcerting, the quality of the shots should be a bigger worry for Hurley and the rest of his coaching staff going forward.
A fair share of Edwards' 15 shots were deep mid-range jumpers that were taken early in the shot clock, completely killing any sort of offensive flow the Sun Devils were hoping to achieve. He got the start tonight, but appears the obvious choice to be swapped out of the starting lineup for the injured sophomore Remy Martin once he fully regains his health.
All-in-all, Tuesday's opener was not the most encouraging victory for ASU, but it was a victory nonetheless.
A historic night for one magical freshman helped transcend what was an overall relatively concerning night for Sun Devil basketball. ASU will look to stay undefeated this week, as they host the Cowboys of McNeese State this Friday, Nov. 9.