Devils overcome slow start, dominate Rebels

The Arizona State basketball squad is still getting out of the bed every morning and staring into the metaphorical mirror on the wall that is bouncing back a reflection that is still in the midst of taking its final form. Although that identity is still forming ASU was able to beat the UNLV rebels 77-55 Wednesday night in a contest that meant a lot more than a rudimentary early season blowout.

Some will focus on freshman Kodi Justice and his fruitful play at the point guard position. Not to say that Justice’s 13 points on 5-9 shooting, including 3-5 from behind the arc along with five rebounds, six assists and zero turnovers should not be highlighted.

It should.

However it is how Justice fits into the dynamic of the offensive lineup that was on the floor for a large part of Wednesday night’s duration.

It really is quite something that Herb Sendek began this season by stating his team needed to be a tad bit more assertive about shooting the ball, as has been highlighted quite a bit.

But it’s hard to believe that was the reality a few weeks ago when you now see how ASU’s shooters have turned the corner.

Seniors Bo Barnes who scored 11 points and Jonathan Gilling who contributed nine are now willing to take shots where they are just open rather than when they are simply wide open. And with Justice who is all kinds of confident when on the court now joining them it has only helped the offense.

Particularly in the CBE tournament games, ASU started playing a lineup that consisted of Justice, Barnes, Gilling, Eric Jacobsen and another athletic wingman.

Justice confirmed that the shooting presence of Barnes, Gilling and himself has been felt by many.

“I feel we all do,” the freshman point guard said of feeling the impact of having three shooters on the court has had.

An instance in the second half saw ASU with a three-on-one attack in transition with Shaquielle McKissic bringing the ball down. On the transition play both Gilling and Barnes headed to the three-point line’s corners and McKissic was able to easily finish an athletic layup with the one-on-one matchup that the two shooter’s separation helped achieve.

Although that play had McKissic at the helm, when Justice has handled the ball his decision making and confidence in that decision has been top notch.

“I’ve always kind of played under control at the point guard position,” Justice said. “This is just how I play.”

There was a certain point early in the second half where Barnes and Gilling’s shot selection may have gotten too cavalier but coach Sendek stated he was still relatively okay with the attempts.

“Those guys are proven shooters so we have a simple rule when you’re open and you’re uncontested shoot it. If you’re not open where it’s contested, move it,” Sendek said. “I want those guys who can really shoot to not hesitate and it doesn’t seem to be a problem for those two guys [Barnes and Gilling].”

“I thought there was maybe one shot in front of our bench that I wouldn’t want to see but by in large they were open shots. So I don’t have a problem with that.”

The importance of Justice’s willingness and confidence to put the ball on the floor to either get himself or his teammates a better shot cannot be stressed enough.

And although Gilling and Barnes do not harness the dribbling skills of their freshman teammate his actions became somewhat contagious.

With about 38 seconds before the first half concluded Barnes did the opposite of what has been working well for him in this young season, he passed up not just a shot, but a wide open shot.

The wingman dribbled toward the free throw elbow, attracting and sealing off two defenders while he did so. This gave Gilling an equally wide open shot at the top of the arc and the Danish senior knocked down the three-pointer.

This action on the perimeter is an affordable expense when it comes to ASU’s on the court budget report because of Eric Jacobsen’s continuing stability down low as insurance when it comes to taking shots because of his rebounding ability. Not to mention his successful efforts to stay on the court because of lack of foul trouble.

The key to staying on the court for the center is, “Being able to decipher when I’m beat and not beat,” Jacobsen said.

Well, on the scoreboard ASU was not beat Wednesday night and they will look to continue this virtuous play Saturday afternoon on the road where they have been beaten this season in a game against Texas A&M. at Noon MT on the SEC Network.

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