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ASU men's basketball grinds out win over Cal in conference opener

The Sun Devils held on late on the back of gritty defense, moving to 3-1 on the season

remy martin basketball.jpg

ASU now-senior guard Remy Martin (1) talks to the team dribbling down the court in the Sun Devils' 78-64 win against the Oregon Ducks at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe, Arizona on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.

No. 25 ASU men's basketball opened up conference play Thursday with a 70-62 win over the California Golden Bears, improving to 3-1 on the season.

The Sun Devils endured what head coach Bobby Hurley described as a heart-stopping moment with 1:42 left to play, as freshman forward Marcus Bagley, who is averaging 13 points per game on the season, suffered an apparent lower leg injury and was helped off the court. 

Although Bagley looked to be in serious pain, Hurley said ASU's medical personnel felt "pretty good that it wasn't the worst case scenario."

The game was tightly contested throughout, with neither team ever leading by over eight points, but the Sun Devils closed out strong on the back of timely defensive plays. ASU held California scoreless in the last two minutes while forcing three turnovers in that time. 

Gritty stops of that nature were key all night, as the Sun Devils forced 20 turnovers and held Cal to 40% shooting. 

Most notably, they effectively guarded junior Matt Bradley, Cal's leading man. Although Bradley managed to score 20 points, he shot just 7-21 and turned the ball over six times. 

"You expect a guy like that to get his average," Hurley said. "I thought we made him work for it."

Bradley faced a flurry of double teams and quality one-on-one defenders, primarily freshman guard Josh Christopher, and he accordingly settled for nine three pointers, of which he made just one. 

However Bradley did find success inside, imposing himself physically and grabbing four offensive rebounds, three of which he put back in for scores. 

That highlighted a weakness of the Sun Devils' defense and continued a developing trend, as they were out rebounded offensively for the third straight time by an 11-3 margin. 

Offensively the Sun Devils struggled shooting from the perimeter, going just 6-21 from deep, and turned the ball over 14 times. But ASU still shot an efficient 64.5% from inside the arc and benefitted from both quality ball movement in stretches and their gifted isolation shotmakers. 

Leading that effort was senior guard Remy Martin, who, despite facing frequent double teams, created consistent penetration, notching 22 points and five assists on 8-11 shooting. 

"In a game where we didn't have great flow on offense and were not hitting perimeter shots, (Martin) carried us," Hurley said. 

Besides Martin, Christopher, who was recently given Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors, continued to display his advanced handle and high-level shotmaking off the dribble, notching 14 points. 

Senior guard Holland Woods also found success, demonstrating his ability to both create for himself and succeed as a catch and shoot man, as he knocked down three of his four attempted triples.    

Among other key Sun Devils, Bagley had just five points on 2-9 shooting, while senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. did not play for the second consecutive game due to non-disciplinary reasons.

For Cal, senior guards Ryan Betley and Makale Foreman had 10 and nine points, respectively, while junior forward Andre Kelly also scored nine.  

This victory represented a change of pace for the Sun Devils, who entered the game averaging 89.3 points per contest, but also highlighted a level of defensive grit they had not shown for a full game previously.   

ASU will next face San Diego State on Dec. 10. 

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