Give credit where credit is due; the Pepperdine Waves kept Arizona State's offense out of rhythm for almost an entire 40 minutes Tuesday night with their suffocating zone defense, strolling out of Wells Fargo Arena with a 66-60 victory. Besides Trent Lockett's game-high 23 points (8-11 shooting), there wasn't much offense to be found for the Sun Devils as they shot a pedestrian 34% from the field, including 25.9% from three. Joshua Lowery lead the Waves in scoring with 13 while Tempe High School graduate and former Gatorade Player of the Year for Arizona Jordan Baker finished the game with seven points.
"We give Pepperdine a great deal of credit," Head Coach Herb Sendek said post-game. "We just never got in any rhythm or sync offensively."
Unfortunately for Sendek and the rest of ASU, the Waves were the epitome of being in in-sync from the opening tip, draining six threes before their first miss from downtown. This forced Sendek to transform his zone defensive scheme on the fly to a more man-to-man approach, something this roster isn't very seasoned in.
"Obviously we're a zone team," Sendek said. "But based on what was happening in the game, we made the switch. I thought it worked rather well for us."
And yes, while it did stiffle the long range shots (the Waves only made two threes after the switch), it only created more free throw opportunities for the Waves with ill-advised penalties. Time and time again, the Devils fouled Pepperdine with the shot clock in its final seconds, a move that Sendek later called the team's "Achilles' heel."
"We sent them to the line unnecessarily," Sendek said. "Our fouling was a significant factor out of the man-to-man."
Along with the Waves 25 second half free throw attempts, the Devils also managed to get to the free throw line more than normal throughout the game, shooting 17-23 from the charity strike. But with getting only three baskets on the inside and sophomore Chanse Creekmur and Junior Carrick Felix, the team's best three-point shooters, combining to shoot 4-14 from beyond, there was nothing working for the Devils to break Pepperdine's pesky zone.
"We didn't [make inside shots] with any degree of regularity and we weren't scoring outside," Sendek said. "It didn't seem like anything came easy to us on offense."
Perhaps the most telling stat of how much ASU struggled against Pepperdine's scheme was this: the Devils scored zero fast break points. But even knowing that running and gunning is his team's bread and butter on offense, Lockett still thought that that statistic could be attributed more to their continued defensive struggles.
"It really comes down to getting stops," Lockett said. "If they're scoring and we're under our bucket [outlet passing] the ball ever time, it's hard to push the ball."
But time wont be on the Sun Devils' side in getting this early-season complications straightened out. The team only gets two days of practice before New Mexico, a team that beat them 76-62 in last year's opener, comes to town.
And Lockett is just as aware as anyone that things might not be getting better anytime soon. After being asked if things get any easier on Friday he swiftly replied "not at all."
Other Game Notes
- Keala King followed up the best game of his career with perhaps his worst, going 0-4 from the field including 0-3 from three. Sendek was visibly displeased with his do-it-all guard and continued to sub him in and out after questionable shots.
- While Chris Colvin did manage to get the turnover problems he showcased in his ASU debut under control, this time it was his offense with the problems as his shot was as clearly off throughout the night (finished 3 of 12)
- With all the guard struggles, walk-on freshman Max Heller got his first playing time of the year Tuesday night, racking up an assist and a turnover in his six minutes, much of which was in crunch time. Sendek on 5'9" guard's promotion into the rotation: "Max has been doing a good job in practice. We just felt like we needed somebody who would get out there and get the ball moving for us and he does that well."
- Jordan Bachynski also got extensive minutes in this one after not seeing the court in the opener. While it was obvious he's still a work in progress, Bachynski shined at times and showed a knack for getting to the free throw line (where he went 3-6).
- After promising to get Jonathan Gilling more involved in last Friday's post game press conference, Sendek once again forgot about the freshman at the end of his bench, only giving the sharp shooter from Denmark a few late minutes as a breather for Kyle Cain.