PHOENIX – What was supposed to be a fast-paced guard-heavy game with an entertaining coaching matchup between two former Duke guards – Bobby Hurley and Chris Collins – turned into a disappointing loss for Arizona State Wednesday night.
The 2023 Jerry Colangelo Classic, one stop on the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series, featured men’s basketball games between ASU and Northwestern, and Arizona and Alabama at Footprint Center. The games are part of a round-robin series held all over North America, including Toronto, San Antonio, Charlotte and Las Vegas
Ultimately, it showcased the best of Arizona and the worst of ASU, which fell 65-46 to Northwestern after scoring only 13 points in the first half. No. 4 Arizona, meanwhile, surged in the second half to beat Alabama 87-74.
The opening game was set up as an intriguing matchup. After an upset loss to Chicago State, Northwestern ranked 64th in KenPoms advanced rankings and 82nd in the NET rankings with a 2-1record in Quadrant 1 games. Meanwhile, the Sun Devils came in at 105.
ASU looked to build on two tough road losses to San Diego and Texas Christian, and with the addition of senior guard Adam Miller, the Sun Devils hoped to turn their up-and-down season around.
Northwestern had other plans.
The Wildcats jumped out to a quick 18-7 lead with an emphasis on 3-point shooting and rebounding, and never looked back.
The barrage of 3-pointers and steady offensive production were the difference and aided by a sloppy ASU offense.
The second half was more of the same. Northwestern seemed to do whatever it pleased on the offensive end. On the defensive end, it forced the Sun Devils into bad shot selection and playing iso-ball.
“I didn’t do a good job getting the team ready for this game,” ASU coach Hurley said. “The physicality of the game … we forced some shots early in the game and couldn’t put the ball in the basket. (We were) just really inefficient on offense, so we got to go back to the drawing board and see what we could do to change that type of effort. (It) just wasn’t great.”
A continued bright spot for the Sun Devils was junior guard Frankie Collins. Defensive pressure and effort make Collins stand out as a lockdown defender as he racked up three steals. His playmaking and speed allowed him to constantly attack the rim and find open teammates. He also tallied 10 points.
The ASU guard did not hold back on what needs to improve moving forward for the Sun Devils.
“First I would say it’s not the coaches’ fault. As players, we got to go out there and perform,” Collins said. “When we face adversity, sometimes we get punched in the mouth, and we don’t fight back. I think we got to go out there and just continue to play hard.”
Collins also said that the team has to improve on its overall toughness in order to reach its goals this season.
“We’re mentally soft,” he said.
The Northwestern guard duo of Boo Buie and Brooks Barnhizer were simply too much for the ASU defense. Buie finished with 22 points and made four 3-pointers to complement Barnhizer’s 16 points.
The Sun Devils hope to find answers before they visit Stanford Dec. 29 to open up the last season of Pac-12 men’s basketball play.
The second game featured a heavyweight battle between Arizona and Alabama, two teams with Final Four dreams. Both also rank in the KenPom top 10, with Arizona sitting at No. 3 and Alabama sitting at No. 8.
The fast-paced game started all Crimson Tide as they busted out to a quick 9-0 lead. As the first half progressed, the Wildcats scratched and clawed to keep themselves within striking distance.
With Arizona trailing, a debatable call for Alabama caused the usually calm Tommy Lloyd to scream at an official, which resulted in a technical foul for the Wildcats coach. This technical foul would prove to be the turning point for the Arizona, which shifted into a new gear.
“Hey, you know, it was going to happen and Rob (Rourke) is a really good official and a technical is something I never aspired to do, but it happened and we’ll move on,” Lloyd said.
Sophomore point guard Kylan Boswell and senior Oumar Ballo took over. With a plethora of dump downs and step-back jump shots, the Wildcats took a 41-40 lead heading into the break.
Oh, and they did most of their damage with senior guard Caleb Love and senior Keshod Johnson on the bench in foul trouble.
The Tide continued their strong effort immediately after the half, starting with a 10-2 run. But with just over 10 minutes remaining, the Wildcats changed momentum with a Pelle Larsson steal and put-back layup, and he even followed that with a charge on the next defensive possession.
“I mean, plays like that happen every game and you just got to be the most aggressive guy and dive on the ball first,” Larsson said. “I think we did that multiple times. We wanted it more.”
Despite the 87-74 result, the score did not reflect how close this game felt to both sides. Arizona was able to play scrappy and score when needed, but Alabama shot itself out of this game, hitting 8 of 40 (20%) from beyond the arc and shooting just 34% from the field.
“I’m really proud of our response,” Lloyd said. “There are ups and downs and you got to be able to weather those, you got to be able to ride them out. You got to be able to change the course. Our guys did an incredible job and, you know, the style we played, it can be a little crazy, but I think that’s good.”
The Wildcats visit Las Vegas Satuday with a ranked matchup between No. 14 Florida Atlantic. Lloyd believes he has his team ready for the tough matchup.
“I think it’s more fun to seek out the challenge,” Larsson said.