The Sun Devils topped the Cowboys 80-52 in Friday night's ASU men's basketball match up against visiting McNeese State University to start the season 2-0.
The game required significantly less late game heroics than ASU's season opener, with strong performances from freshman guard Luguentz Dort, redshirt senior forward Zylan Cheatham and sophomore forward Kimani Lawrence, propelling ASU to its first comfortable victory of the young season.
“We’re going to develop and get better I think as we go forward,” head coach Bobby Hurley said. “I was excited about the intensity on defense in the second half and using our athleticism to create turnovers.”
Dort once again led the team in scoring with 25 points, as he has quickly established himself as the premiere talent on ASU’s roster. His athletic dominance was on full display Friday night as the Cowboys looked outmatched and overwhelmed for most of the game.
“I tried to warn everyone (about Dort) if anyone was listening,” Hurley said. “Over the last couple months, I’ve mentioned his name a few times.”
Where his athletic gifts truly shine are on the defensive side of the floor, where he hounds opposing ball handlers 94 feet up the floor. His presence single-handedly changes the complexion of the Sun Devils defense, and his energy and enthusiasm defending the ball is infectious.
“It’s something I really take pride in, playing defense full court,” Dort said. “Me and (Cheatham) did a great job today guarding full court.”
Friday’s victory was also a big moment for Cheatham, who shook off an up-and-down Sun Devil debut to lead the team in rebounds and assists en route to an impressive 16 point, 12 rebound and six assist performance.
His unique blend of talents provide a skill set ASU simply hasn’t possessed in past seasons. Cheatham’s ability to seamlessly transition between ball-handler and low-post force provides lineup flexibility that few other Sun Devils can.
Cheatham, the 2017 Mill Madness Dunk Contest champion, also showed off his impressive hops early in the second half when he threw down a windmill slam to send Wells Fargo Arena into a frenzy.
“He had the basketball a lot tonight and had a lot of responsibility, especially in the second half on playmaking and scoring,” Hurley said. “He’s just a really, really talented offensive player and a very good all-around player.”
The Sun Devils also showed off some new things defensively, breaking out a full court press early in the second half despite a commanding double-digit lead, courtesy of one particular duo.
“Our exact words were ‘turn up,’” Cheatham said. “Me and (Dort) were on the same page and we gave each other the look. They had a four-man taking the ball out, and I knew he didn’t want to dribble, so I said 'let’s just make it living hell for him to get it across half court.' I’m sure he felt our wrath.”
The Sun Devils had a particularly strong defensive performance from senior forward De’Quon Lake. He finished the game with a team leading three blocks to go along with five rebounds, making his case to join the starting lineup.
“I thought De’Quon Lake in particular, when we went to the bench in the second half, really got us started with the blocks and some big rebounds,” Hurley said. “He did some nice things.”
Despite some slow starts to games, the Sun Devils have escaped their first two matchups of the season with victories and big performances from some of ASU’s more athletically gifted players.
The team prepares for another home matchup in Tempe against the Long Beach State 49ers on Monday at 7 p.m. MST.