Sun Devil men’s basketball improved to 6-2 after securing a victory against Southern Methodist University on Wednesday in an exciting 76-74 nailbiter, despite missing two key frontcourt players, seven-footer Shawn Phillips Jr. and stretch big Zane Meeks.
Defense has been a focal point for the team, with junior Frankie Collins leading the charge. Currently averaging three and a half steals every time he laces up, Collins boasts the third-highest steal average in NCAA men’s collegiate ball right now.
These defensive efforts led to a gritty win against the SMU Mustangs. After trailing most of the second half, Collins gave the team momentum after making a steal on an inbound pass and throwing down a two-handed jam to give the Sun Devils the lead with five minutes to go.
The Sun Devils struggled most of the game, being down by as many as 13 points. Without their two big men, they had trouble in the paint, and SMU outscored ASU by 20 points in the lane. Zhuric Phelps and Chuck Harris combined for just over 40 points for the Mustangs as their strong performances, complimented by their paint dominance, almost took it home.
Perez, a recent addition to the team from West Virginia, is a veteran. Despite not getting the opportunity to play in season games at WVU, he said he is currently working to shake off some rust here in Tempe and is making notable progress after a strong season at Manhattan College in the 2021-22 season.
“I feel like I’m getting a little groove back,” Perez said Wednesday after their win against SMU. “My teammates are trusting me. I’m getting better, adjusting to their games, (figuring out) where I can get them the ball, they can get me the ball.”
Perez led the team with 20 points after converting on 12 of his 15 free throws. Since he was a freshman, Perez said he has been able to recognize and use his talents of drawing contact and getting to the foul line.
He also is skilled at getting the ball just under the arc, where he can back down his opponent and use a crafty spin move or a shot fake to secure a favorable opportunity. He additionally looks to create for his teammates by utilizing the drive-and-kick method along with using his nearly 6-and-a-half-foot frame to set screens for his guys.
After losing to San Francisco by nearly 40 points last season, the Sun Devil squad was able to get their revenge on Sunday, winning 72-61 in Tempe. The squad relied heavily on the starters this game, who contributed all of the team's points, all but one of their steals, all but two of their assists, and all but four of their rebounds.
Collins stepped up when needed throughout the game, scoring a team-high 21 points, playing lockdown defense with three steals, and grabbing eight rebounds.
“I think our identity is just to be dogs,” Collins said after the San Francisco game. “Just play hard all the time and get stops. Defense gotta be our go-to.”
ASU has won four straight games. The team will take their win streak to Fort Worth, Texas, next Tuesday when they take on the TCU Horned Frogs in a rematch of the 2023 NCAA Tournament first round, where the Sun Devils were bounced by TCU 72-70.
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Sadie Buggle and Shane Brennan