As the buzzer sounded, there was a collective sigh of relief.
The Arizona State Sun Devils improved to 2-1 on the new year Monday night with a 72-63 victory over North Florida.
The win didn't come easy, as the Sun Devils took their first lead with only three seconds left in the first half, but battled through the entire 40 minutes of play just hard enough to get the win.
That's been a theme for Arizona State, which has now played three games with all going into the final stages of the game without a clear winner.
"These games are good to get behind us now, and it's good to get back on track and win a basketball game. Now the water's deep," said head coach Bobby Hurley to reporters following the game.
As the team prepares for their first road test of the season (Thursday at San Diego State), the Sun Devils are beginning to find their footing on and off the court.
Arizona State's opening slate of games at Desert Financial Arena have now come and gone. While the Sun Devils are now beginning to form an identity (which of course is subject to change), here's what we've seen through Arizona State's 2-1 start:
Free throws aren't exactly free: It's the most simple part of the game, right? Hit the line and shoot uninterrupted to add points to the scoreboard. It's an easy yet sometimes overlooked part of the game, as missed free throws are often one of the first numbers looked at following a loss.
After an abysmal showing at the stripe on Monday (7-of-18 made), the Sun Devils are shooting 60% on their free throws this season.
When asked about it following the win over North Florida, Hurley pointed towards the fact that his guards (normally the guys who are good at shooting) haven't taken many shots at the line. Through three games, Arizona State's guards have taken only seven of the Sun Devils' 40 attempts.
While that percentage should climb as more attempts are made, it's clear Arizona State has to take advantage of their opportunities when it matters most.
Three-point shooting is just not there: Heading into Monday night, the Sun Devils had shot a dismal 27.3% from downtown. A win vs North Florida saw good improvement, as Arizona State converted 47% of its three-point shots thanks to a strong second-half showing.
However, through three games, it's evident Arizona State simply doesn't shoot the ball extremely well from behind the arc. However, it was good to see guys such as DJ Horne (4-for-7), Marreon Jackson (3-for-4) and Jamiya Neal (2-for-3) all shoot well, especially as the game began to tighten up.
Perhaps we'll revisit this down the road when the Sun Devils have figured everything out. For now, Arizona State's rims couldn't be smaller as a unit.
Slow starts must go: In each of Arizona State's three games, one common outcome has been shared: Slow starts.
The Sun Devils have had shooting slumps in every first half by starting 1-for-7 from the field or worse. On Monday, it resulted in them falling behind 16-4.
Of course, nobody truly expected this team to run-and-gun their way to shootout victories that include triple-digit scoring, especially with the build of the team.
However, as competition ramps up (especially against the likes of San Diego State and Baylor), the Sun Devils simply can't afford for stronger teams to gain an early edge in that fashion.
It's a marathon, not a race. We get that. However, the beginning of the marathon is just as important as the other parts. From shot selection to getting settled in on defense, Arizona State needs to improve.
Still dreaming of March: Even after a somewhat shaky start, this team still displays the talent to not only make the NCAA Tournament, but perhaps win a game or two in the process.
The guard rotation is deep, allowing Hurley to consistently get his guys in and out while keeping them fresh. Some are slashers, some can shoot and others can distribute the ball well.
Once the backcourt can get going, Arizona State will see a nice boost in scoring.
On the wings, the obvious talents of guys such as Marcus Bagley and Kimani Lawrence can pay dividends when needed. In the paint, Enoch Boakye has serious potential to develop and take over games down the stretch.
If and when the Sun Devils do indeed put all of their collective talents together, Arizona State surely has a team that can play top basketball on any given night.