ASU men’s basketball struggled offensively in a 76-63 loss to the University of Texas at El Paso on Wednesday night in Tempe.
Although the team struggled on the offensive side of the ball for most of the game, the Sun Devils started out hot. Sophomore forward Jalen Graham scored nine of ASU’s first 11 points, and the team was aggressively attacking the paint against an undersized UTEP team.
Freshman guard Josh Christopher also consistently attacked the basket and led all players with 13 first-half points.
ASU (4-3) finished the first half with 26 points in the paint, a substantial improvement to the just eight total points scored in the paint versus SDSU and the 24 at GCU.
On the other hand, senior guard Remy Martin again played passively in the first half, taking his first field goal attempt of the game just three seconds before halftime. ASU head coach Bobby Hurley noticed Martin’s passive play and said he would have liked to see the guard be more aggressive offensively.
“I thought he had at least two in rhythm threes in the first half that he should’ve pulled the trigger on,” Hurley said. “(Martin) just didn’t have the normal look that I’m accustomed to seeing from him — just out there with the fire and the passion and flying around the court.”
The Sun Devils went into halftime with an eight-point lead, ending the period on a 10-2 run. But, to start the second half, the Miners quickly erased the Sun Devil lead as redshirt junior guard Souley Boum scored the first nine points of the second half. Boum finished the game with 18 points for UTEP (3-2).
For ASU, Christopher’s impressive offensive performance continued into the second half, scoring 11 second-half points. Although Christopher finished as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points, Hurley said Christopher did more than just “make some shots.”
“He dove on the floor a couple of times, really mixed it up well on defense and was really connected to the game,” Hurley said. “We gotta get more guys playing up to the level of intensity that he demonstrated in this game.”
ASU finished the game with just eight bench points. Junior forward Chris Osten led the bench with five points and junior forward Taeshon Cherry pitched in three points with a banked-in three-pointer, ASU’s only make from behind the arc in 18 attempts. Starting senior forward Kimani Lawrence and bench players Jaelen House and Holland Woods each did not score.
“I just think it comes down to us coming together. I think this team is kind of separated and we have to be more connected, and it starts with practice,” Christopher said. “I think we have to come together and play hard. That’s what it comes down to. We’ve got all this talent, we just have to try and mesh it.”
Another recurring problem for the Sun Devils early in the 2020-21 season has been rebounding, as they have now been outrebounded in six out of their seven games this season.
UTEP outrebounded ASU 46-26 as its leading rebounder, freshman forward Marcus Bagley, missed his third consecutive game. Hurley said he will experiment with different lineups to try to combat the issue.
“Chris Osten is going to get a lot more minutes because he’ll battle and fight and compete,” Hurley said. “There are some different lineups that we could explore and just going a little bigger. We had to go a lot of small ball today just trying to generate some points.”
ASU will look to bounce back at home on Dec. 22 against Utah at 7 p.m. MST in its second conference game of the season.
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