Takeaways from ASU men's basketball as the team enters Battle 4 Atlantis

After losing to San Diego State 65-63 on Thursday, here are three takeaways as the Sun Devils head to the Battle 4 Atlantis Wednesday

With ASU men's basketball dropping another nail-biter against San Diego State on Thursday, the team is now staring at a 2-2 record heading into the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, where it will first play No. 9 Baylor in the Bahamas Wednesday.

Before the Sun Devils leave the country to play the reigning NCAA Tournament champions, here are three takeaways to notice through the first four games of the season.

ASU is better than .500

It's important to realize that if it weren't for a nearly impossible buzzer-beating three-quarter court shot by UC Riverside senior forward J.P. Moorman II and a missed wide-open corner three from freshman forward Jamiya Neal in the SDSU matchup, ASU would be sitting at 4-0 to start the season.

It's not to make excuses, but ASU has put itself in a position to win every game so far and proved on Thursday it could play against a formidable team on the road and against a hostile crowd.

"It was a lot of fun. It was a heck of a game to be a part of," head coach Bobby Hurley said. "It felt to me like COVID never existed for two hours so it was so refreshing ... it felt to me like an NCAA Tournament game."

For many players, Thursday's game against SDSU was one of the craziest atmospheres they'd ever played in front of. Junior forward Jalen Graham said "the atmosphere was great," and "we used their energy for us."

Not to mention that coming into the SDSU game, Hurley owned an 8-2 record in non-conference road games, which is the second-best in the nation during his time with ASU. Hurley is also extremely successful in the month of November, accumulating a 20-5 record in the past four seasons, including this season's start. ASU has many new faces and the players still need time to figure each other out and how to play together as a unit.

Kimani Lawrence is good ... really good

Graduate student forward Kimani Lawrence has found his stride in his fifth year with the team and has become a "show by example" leader. Lawrence currently leads the team in minutes (32), field goal percentage (64.3%), points per game (16.0) and rebounds per game (10). 

For some perspective, in his freshman year, Lawrence averaged 9.8 minutes per game, 3.1 points per game, 1.7 rebounds a game and didn't start a single game. Lawrence has an incomparable tenacity to break for the glass, fight for rebounds, play in the paint and do the dirty work. He rose from the bottom to the top and is the centerpiece for ASU so far this season.

Last season, Lawrence finished the season averaging 8.1 points per game and 5 rebounds per game, one of his best seasons to date. He has practically doubled each of those averages four games into this season and seems to become a bigger impact with every minute he plays. Hurley admired Lawrence's hot start to season after the loss to SDSU, saying "he just really knows who he is," and "he's just really mastered his role."

Shooting and defending threes needs to be better

The Sun Devils on the season have shot 29.7% from behind the arc and are allowing teams to shoot above 35% from beyond the arc; this needs to be the other way around.

Sophomore guard DJ Horne, a transfer from Illinois State, shot 42.4% from the three point line as a freshman and is shooting a respectable 38.1% so far this season. The upgrade needs to come from graduate student guard Marreon Jackson. After shooting a minimum of 34.8% from three in his four seasons with Toledo, Jackson is currently shooting 22.7% from three, but he says he will improve.

"My confidence is definitely back and my swag is definitely back," Jackson said after the loss to SDSU. "I think every single one of my shots went in and out, you know?" 

Jackson also said he is dealing with a minor groin injury, affecting the lift on his shot. A healthy Jackson is what the Sun Devils need, and the trend says his shooting will improve. 

Outside of the Sun Devils' opening-night win against Portland, the opposing team has shot better from the three point line and ASU has lost two out of three of those games. ASU did win against an 0-5 University of North Florida team, but that was just a test for Hurley's players in out-of-conference play.

Overall takeaway

After going 11-14 last season due to chemistry and injury issues, ASU is bound to compete at a much higher level. Whether the team wins or loses, the coaches and the players talk about the chemistry they are building and how it will take time to flow as fluidly as they would like. 

With the Battle 4 Atlantis coming up and Pac-12 play beginning after that starting against Washington State on Dec. 1, ASU will have to find consistency soon in order to compete in the Pac-12 and to reach any NCAA tournament aspirations.  

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said a missed three-pointer from Jamiya Neal against SDSU happened in the UC Riverside game. The article was updated Nov. 20 at 4 p.m. with the correct information.


Reach the reporter at ascott43@asu.edu and follow @Austinscott_16 on Twitter.

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