ASU’s offensive rhythm AWOL in loss to Colorado
Romello White knows the feeling of disappointment, of everyone staring at him for all the wrong reasons. He was suspended ahead of ASU and Colorado’s first meeting in China when the Sun Devils, lacking a presence in the paint, lost by 10.
On that night, White let his team down. On Thursday against the Buffalos, they let him down.
The junior forward has been ASU’s most efficient, effective and consistent option on offense. Against Colorado, which threw 262-pound Evan Battey and 6-foot-10 Lucas Siewart on him, he was dominant.
“Me letting my teammates down, not being there for them (against Colorado the first time), I came in with a chip on my shoulder. I just wanted to show that I'd be there for them,” White said.
White finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds on 9 of 12 shooting. As a team, ASU (10-7, 1-3 Pac-12) outscored Colorado by double digits in the paint. To observing eyes, the Sun Devils mismatch was clear -- put the ball in No. 23’s hands and good things were on the horizon.
“I think one of the things that are consistent is to go down low and get Mello the ball,” point guard Remy Martin said.
That plan went astray. The Sun Devils’ lull returned with little semblance of any offensive rhythm or flow. ASU blew an early nine-point lead, missed 18 of their first 20 shots of the second half and eventually fell to Colorado 68-61.
The Sun Devils third basket of the second half -- you know, the one preceded by a 2-for-20 slump -- was scored by White, a contested layup that cut the Sun Devils’ deficit to 10. Running back down the court, ASU’s starting forward threw up both arms in frustration, as if to say ‘Finally.’
“It was just one of those nights,” forward Kimani Lawrence said.
Added White: “We’re not consistent on offense. We’ll have times when we’re scoring good and then we go back to what we usually do and not pass the ball, not move and shoot early shots.”
It’s not just the final numbers that were glaring -- 34 percent from the field, 26 from deep, 2 fast break points, 22 fouls, etc. The offense was a jumble. It felt like untying a knot -- guys kept pulling and playing with the string, thinking they were helping when they really only made it tighter.
It’s known that ASU’s offense is far from reliant on scripted plays. Under Bobby Hurley, the program affords its players freedom to make things happen, to use their creativity and skill as they may. In essence, no player will be told not to take a shot.
In some cases, it’s looked unstoppable. For example, during ASU’s ‘Guard U’ season two years ago, it played fast, hit shots and created scoring chances out of a million different positions. Feeling like a foreign concept, Hurley was praised for the philosophy.
On nights like Thursday, it feels like ASU’s biggest hindrance. On multiple occasions, the Sun Devils chucked up a 3 early in the shot clock. When it missed, Colorado (14-3, 3-1 Pac-12) seemed to always have numbers sprinting down court.
“That’s hurting us because we come down, take a fast shot and then they’re in transition and score,” White said. “We do statistics so we look. When we move the ball more than one time around the court, we usually court … Our coaches tell us that all the time.”
The quick shots are the main example of the more glaring issue that ensued for ASU’s offense -- the ball didn’t move. On one play, Martin drove into the paint and hucked a shot into the arms of three Colorado defenders. Just feet away, Alonzo Verge was set in the corner, Jalen House on the arc.
“I think the difference, too, is we didn’t really get to the free-throw line enough and they outscored us by 12 at the free-throw line,” Hurley said. “You saw it. There were turnovers, guys leaving their feet and not having a play and passing it to them. Then, there were some missed shots. It was kind of a mixture of a lot of things.”
Martin finished the night with 25 points, aided by a pair of garbage-time 3-pointers, on 9 of 23 shooting from the field and 4 of 11 from beyond the arc. In the same vein, guard Rob Edwards shot 3 of 12 and guard Alonzo Verge hit just 2 of his 13 attempts.
A majority of those misses were low-percentage shots that had little chance of connecting. Two quick things about that -- 1.) Colorado is a really good defensive team, 2.) Some ASU players have made those crazy shots in the past.
Fine. Take them when they’re needed -- not 10 seconds and less than three passes into a possession, something that occurred frequently in the second half against Colorado.
“I don’t really know what goes through people’s heads at the time,” Lawrence said
Some of it may be different Sun Devils trying to play the role of hero, trying to pull off the comeback all by themselves. Not only is that a poor plan, but it’s also not one ASU encourages or executes in practice.
“It’s really frustrating. I’ll ask them like, ‘What’s going on? What are we not doing? Just play like we play in practice,’” White said. “At practice, everyone is having fun because everyone is moving the ball, everybody is scoring.”
Perhaps that’s what’s most frustrating for ASU’s players and coaches about the shooting slumps and the offensive consistency -- none of it happens in practice.
“Practice is totally different. In practice, we’re moving the ball, driving and kicking it to shooters, we’re making shots,” White said. “That’s why we keep having hope. We can’t give up hope because we’re doing it in practice.”