Recap: ASU leaves CBE Classic empty-handed

Shoddy free throw shooting and poor execution down the stretch marred an otherwise respectable showing for Arizona State at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. The Sun Devils, who entered the tournament undefeated, left Kansas City with two tough losses – both of which were decided in the waning moments.

The Devils struggled at the charity stripe – shooting a combined 23 of 38 (61 percent) in the two tournament games. Arizona State missed five crucial free throws in the late stages of Monday’s 78-73 loss to Maryland. And the free throw struggles carried over to Tuesday’s matchup, when the Devils connected on only 14 of 24 free throws in a 76-71 loss to Alabama.

In both contests, Arizona State failed to execute on the offensive end in the final moments.

On Monday night – with the score knotted at 73 and just one minute remaining – the Devils looked out of sorts after coming out of a timeout. The end result was an out-of-control drive and wild layup attempt from Shaq McKissic, which didn’t even draw iron. On their next possession, Arizona State settled for a Kodi Justice pull-up jumper from 14 feet. On both plays, the Sun Devils failed to locate the hot hands of Jonathan Gilling and Bo Barnes who had connected on a combined 12 three-pointers in the game.

Tuesday night wasn’t much better. Down by two with 37 seconds remaining, Gilling airballed a fade away three-pointer with a defender in his face. The ill-advised shot was not well received by coach Herb Sendek, who was visibly upset with the senior forward’s shot selection. On the ensuing possession, Gerry Blakes hoisted up a contested layup that didn’t hit the rim. That sealed the Devils’ fate – and a winless road trip.

However, it wasn’t a completely futile road trip for the Sun Devils.

Despite the two losses, Arizona State showed promise against quality opponents and displayed a relatively solid offense in Kansas City. More importantly, for a team struggling to find its identity, the Sun Devils may have inched closer to establishing their rotation and solidifying roles.

Here a few other takeaways from the CBE Classic:

Jacobsen is the real deal

In our season preview, we claimed that Jacobsen might be the most important player on the Arizona State roster. If the Sun Devils had any chance of being competitive this season, they needed Jacobsen to be on top of his game.

The 6-foot-10 junior center has not disappointed.

As the only experienced post player on the roster, Jacobsen has made significant strides since last season. He transformed his body over the offseason and now looks stronger, quicker and has more bounce off the floor.

Through five games, Jacobsen is averaging 11 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game, while shooting a ridiculous 78 percent from the field. Equally important he has been able to stay out of foul trouble – an issue that plagued him his first two seasons. Jacobsen is logging a team-high 33.4 minutes per game thus far.

Potent bench duo

If the CBE Classic is any indication, the Sun Devils might have one of the best reserve units in the Pac-12. Seniors Jonathan Gilling and Bo Barnes came off the bench and lit up the scoreboard in both games.

In the two tournament games, Barnes scored 17 and 11 respectively, while connecting on 8 of 15 from three-point range. Meanwhile Gilling hit for 21 and 10 respectively, while making 9 of 13 three-pointers.

It’s unlikely the senior duo can continue to shoot the ball at this gaudy clip, but both players will be relied upon to provide energy, scoring, and leadership throughout the season. Thus far they have excelled in all three areas.

Through five games, Gilling is averaging a team-high 12 points per game. Barnes, who has often been matched up against the opponent’s best perimeter player on the defensive end, is averaging 9.4 points off the bench.

New starting point guard?

The point guard position has been a revolving door for the Devils early in the season. Freshman Tra Holder was expected to play significant minutes this season – and he still may – but he has stumbled out of the blocks. He has had issues taking care of the ball and looks indecisive at times on the floor.

Sophomore Chance Murray has been the backup but he has never looked completely comfortable running the point and may be better suited to play off the ball.

As a result, Sendek inserted freshman Kodi Justice into the starting lineup for Tuesday’s game against Alabama. And the early results were overwhelmingly positive. In his first collegiate start, Justice tallied 8 points, 4 assists and zero turnovers in 34 minutes of action.

Of the three options used at point guard thus far, Justice looks the most comfortable running the team – and the ball movement has been significantly better when he’s on the floor.

Justice has struggled from the field early on, but that should improve with consistent playing time. He has a reputation of being a very good perimeter shooter.

Possible go-to scorer for ASU

Prior to the season, one of the biggest areas of concern for Arizona State was the lack of a proven go-to scorer. However, they may have found their solution in the form of junior guard Gerry Blakes.

Heading into the tournament, we saw flashes of brilliance but overall his play had been inconsistent. However, he emerged on the scene at the CBE Classic hitting for 14 points (all in the first half) against Maryland. He followed that with 21 points against Alabama.

Blakes is equally comfortable driving the ball to the hoop as he is stepping back for a three-pointer. He is probably the most natural scorer on this year’s squad and is the most adept at creating his own shot.

More importantly he is not shy to pull the trigger – even in the latter stages of the game.


*The Sun Devils will be back in action on Saturday night against Colgate (1-3). The game will tip-off at 7pm at Wells Fargo Arena.

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