By Justin Toscano
It was one of the biggest wins in Arizona State men’s basketball history, and some will debate it’s alone at the top.
The 16th-ranked Sun Devils on Sunday defeated No. 2 Kansas, 95-85, in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. According to the ESPN broadcast, it was ASU’s first road win over a top-5 opponent since defeating No. 4 Stanford in 1998.
ASU is now 9-0 with wins over the Jayhawks, Xavier, St. John’s, Kansas State and San Diego State.
Here’s what you need to know from Sunday’s win:
- Let’s just run through some of the BEFORE LOSING TO ASU stats. For starters, Kansas’ last time on the court before Sunday was in a loss to unranked Washington. Before losing to the Sun Devils, Kansas was 78-10 after a loss under coach Bill Self. Of those 10, only one was at home (in 2005). Since 2013-14, the Jayhawks were 28-2 following a loss. The Jayhawks had won 37 straight games following a loss.
- ASU found itself down 15-2 a few minutes into the game. After that, the Sun Devils outscored Kansas, 93-70. Those numbers are impressive, but let’s dive deeper. This isn’t football. There isn’t much time to regroup in basketball. Give the Sun Devils plenty of credit for picking themselves up off the mat. Kansas was coming off a bad loss to unranked Washington. The Jayhawks came out strong. They hit 3-pointers and got to the basket at will. ASU couldn’t take the lid off at first, but found a way to pull closer. The Sun Devils were clutch when it mattered. Their largest lead was 14 points, just one more than that of Kansas. But, it came in the second half.
- ASU’s experience really showed on Sunday. Seniors Tra Holder and Kodi Justice played at Rupp Arena two years ago when the Sun Devils lost to Kentucky. Shannon Evans is another senior. All three were there when ASU took down SDSU in Viejas Arena last season. ASU recently debuted shirts that say “Guard U” and boy does it fit. Holder scored 29, Evans had 22 and freshman Remy Martin had 21 of his own.
- That brings us to Remy Martin. Wow. Those who follow the team closely know him and what he can do, but he introduced himself to the country today. Those 21 points came on 8-11 shooting. He also added five steals. His defense proved critical in that second half. Coach Bobby Hurley has talked all season about Martin’s ability to fire up his teammates with the way he guards on the ball. He stepped up today. Kansas’ guards hurt ASU on the offensive end, but Martin helped neutralize that in the second half. Oh, he’s only a freshman, too.
- So, I briefly referenced that strong second half. In it was a 15-0 ASU run. ASU trailed 52-50, then led 65-52. Martin, Evans and Holder were a huge part of it. The Sun Devils started playing better defense. They have worn down teams this season and on Sunday, that seemed like somewhat the case. It seemed like Kansas’ guards were blazing fast in the first half, but slowed down a bit during that long ASU run. The Sun Devils are just well-conditioned, it seems, because only five guys played heavy minutes. Forward Vitaliy Shibel, who played 13 minutes, isn’t included in that.
- Forward Mickey Mitchell made his ASU debut on Sunday. He played just six minutes and was 0-1 from the floor. He didn’t impact the game much. To be fair, this probably wasn’t the best game to return after a year off from basketball. He still figures to be a key part of what the Sun Devils do going forward and he’ll have easier opponents to play as he tries to find his stride. When he played in the first half, he had a few tough possessions back-to-back-to-back.
- Kansas shot 38 3-pointers and made 14. ASU’s 14 3-point makes came on 28 attempts. Overall, the Sun Devils shot 51 percent while Kansas was at 48 percent. The Sun Devils made eight more free throws. That gave them a small advantage.
- Here’s where ASU won the game: Points off turnovers and bench points. The Sun Devils scored 25 points off turnovers. They forced 16 turnovers, and though they turned it over 10 times, Kansas only scored nine points off those. So, about those “bench points.” Martin’s 21 points were all ASU’s bench scored the entire game. Kansas, on the other hand, had one bench point.
- ASU was dominating the second half, but you had to know a Kansas flurry was coming right? After ASU’s big run, Kansas would cut the lead to six points. However, the Jayhawks never got closer. In the final minutes, Kansas punched hard. They hit shots, but it didn’t matter. ASU answered. On one occasion, Evans hit a 3-pointer to make it a 13-point game. When the Jayhawks were within six, Evans hit another 3-pointer to make it a nine-point game. The Sun Devils were tested down the stretch on the road and they didn’t give in or fold. That says a lot about Hurley’s team.
- When watching this team today, how could you not think about last year? Last season’s Sun Devils wouldn’t have had a chance. They had no inside presence. They didn’t play good defense. They gave effort and played with energy, but the manpower wasn’t there. Well, with the additions of Martin and forward Romello White (13 points), ASU does have the talent. The Sun Devils are still guard-heavy, but that’s not a bad thing. Plus, they’ve shown they can play inside.
- The last time the Sun Devils were in the top 10 was in 1981. They should be there when Monday’s poll comes out. Heck, they could even challenge for a top 5 spot.