The Arizona State Sun Devils took the court for the first time on Tuesday evening, defeating the Portland Pilots 76-60 at Desert Financial Arena to begin their 2021 season.
Arizona State had a curious aura heading into regular-season play. The Sun Devils, injected with a plethora of new blood, had the potential to swing any direction given whatever the game deemed necessary.
On a night where shots behind the arc weren't falling for the Sun Devils (27% from downtown), the story of the season opener in Tempe was defense.
Arizona State forced 21 turnovers, 12 of those coming within the first 12 minutes of the game.
It was a game where familiar faces such as Marcus Bagley shined, while new faces for Arizona State fans made impressive debuts.
Initial Takeaways From Arizona State's Win Over Portland
Give Marreon Jackson time: Jackson, who led the MAC in scoring last season at Toledo prior to transferring to Arizona State, was heralded for his ability to score almost at will. Jackson finished 1-for-7 shooting on the night (0-for-4 on three-pointers) and totaled only two points.
The good news? Jackson led the team with five assists, and his lack of scoring isn't likely to continue.
Head coach Bobby Hurley believes it was an injury that impacted him:
"(Marreon Jackson) had a little bit of a scary situation two days ago, and he didn’t practice yesterday. He had a knee brace on today if you noticed. Everything’s fine, but just missing practice the day before the game, I don’t think he was quite where he’s been throughout most of the preseason."
Have faith that Jackson will return to form and provide Arizona State with a huge boost in the scoring department sooner rather than later.
Eight man rotation it is!: Even in a regular-season opener that was surely out of reach with only minutes left, Hurley still rolled with the same eight-player rotation he had been using the entire game.
Starters: Luther Muhammad, Marreon Jackson, Kimani Lawrence, Marcus Bagley Alonzo Gaffney
All starters played at least 25 minutes.
Bench/Rotation: DJ Horne, Enoch Boakye, Jamiya Neal
Horne and Neal played over 20 minutes while Boakye played 13.
Even when two of his starters (Bagley and Gaffney) sat with three fouls early in the second half, Hurley stuck with his normal deployment of troops.
Hurley may likely be trying to get his accustomed to each other during live competition that matters, while also tinkering with lineups. It is notable that Jalen Graham, Jay Heath and Justin Rochelin did not play due to "health and safety protocols," so we could see a deeper rotation of players in the next game.
Scoring can come from anywhere: Five Sun Devils finished the night in double-digit scoring, showcasing their balance to truly be able to score from anywhere in the lineup.
Considering that number could very well have been six if Jackson hadn't been limited to two points, a lethal lineup on the offensive end could match up very well with tough defensive efforts on the other side of the court.
Hurley talked about it following the game:
"Just to score 76 (points) the way we played, the way we shot it, I think is a really good sign," Hurley said. "I think there are some positives that you can take from it where even if we don’t have our A game or B game, I don’t know what letter you want to assign our offensive performance, but just how we competed, how we defended, got stops, turned them over. If your defense shows up and you’ve got guys playing hard on that end, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win on nights like this.”
There's just something different: If we're allowed one overreaction from opening night, allow it to be this: This Arizona State team may just be one of the best teams Hurley has seen roll through Tempe.
A tough defensive mindset resides within the team. Boakye is a tremendous post presence in the making. Arizona State's scoring can appear from anywhere on the floor, and this team has veteran guys through each position group that has experience to test any waters.
Down the road, this team can become special.