After a heartbreaking 66-65 loss to UC Riverside on Veterans Day, ASU men's basketball (2-1) squeezed out a win in the final few minutes against the North Florida Ospreys (0-4) by a final score of 72-63.
ASU looked lost at the start of its game against North Florida, trailing 13-4 and shooting 2-10 from the field, 0-3 on three-point attempts and 0-4 from the free-throw line in the first 5.5 minutes. A winless Ospreys team kept it close against the Sun Devils throughout the night until graduate student guard Marreon Jackson hit back-to-back threes in the final minutes of the game.
"It definitely felt good to hit those shots, especially coming off of the last two games. I don't think I hit a three, and if anyone knows my game, you know I shoot a lot of threes," Jackson said. "I make a lot of threes, so I feel good getting my groove back and my swag back."
It was a grind-it-out type of game for the Sun Devils, and the free-throw line was not their friend Monday night, the team shooting 7-18 overall and 0-6 in the first half.
"Certainly you don't want to see those numbers," head coach Bobby Hurley said. "I don't think we had many of our guards taking many free throws, but it's obviously not something that you want to see."
Redshirt sophomore guard Jose Placer gave ASU all it could handle, dropping a game-high 25 points on 9-16 shooting from the field and 4-9 from behind the arc. Placer accounted for nearly 40% of North Florida's points and kept his team in the game with timely shots whenever ASU seemed to gain momentum.
Sophomore guard DJ Horne led the way with 16 points, followed by 13 points from Jackson. Horne also put pressure on the Ospreys guards down the stretch, which was something that wasn't as present against UC Riverside.
"(Defense) is an emphasis that we do as a team," Horne said. "Coach Hurley is on us hard about putting pressure on the other team's guards, and I just felt like the last game we came out flat and the other team punched us in the mouth, so we wanted to come out and do the opposite to them tonight."
The Sun Devils also took advantage down inside, out-scoring the Ospreys 34-22 in the paint and out-rebounding them 42-33. Junior forward Jalen Graham and sophomore guard Jay Heath were in the rotation for the first time this season, and Hurley was glad to have them back.
"I view those two guys as two of our key players and so not having them for that amount of time is not great for us," Hurley said. "I have trust I can throw the ball (to Graham) and he can make some good things happen inside on offense and then Jay has shown over his career as a scorer … and I think he’ll get a lot out of tonight and hopefully take another step over the next couple of days."
Sophomore forward Marcus Bagley didn’t play in the second half due to an ongoing knee injury. Bagley was on the floor during the first half, but played only nine minutes and shot 0-4 from the field.
"We've had some setbacks with it over the past few weeks with it, and he made strides and he was doing very well," Hurley said. "This is another minor step back so we just got to be careful and see what he looks like tomorrow."
ASU now leaves Tempe for the first time this season to play the San Diego State Aztecs (1-1) at Viejas Arena in San Diego on Thursday, which starts at 8:30 p.m. MST.
San Diego State stole a game on ASU’s home court last season, winning 80-68 on Dec. 10, 2020, and ASU will look to return the favor in one of its biggest non-conference games of the season.
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Austin Scott is a sports reporter majoring in Sports Journalism, and has been writing sports stories for three years. He looks to continue writing impactful, engaging sports stories for years to come. In the future, Austin wants to use his outgoing personality to do play-by-play and live sports production or sports radio and podcasting.