Scare at GCU should be wake-up call for ASU men’s hoops

If a double-digit loss to an underdog wasn’t enough to bring the Arizona State basketball team back to reality, the one-point win at Grand Canyon University surely did the trick.

A three-point basket by Remy Martin, while falling backward, with nine seconds left to play.  That’s what it took for the No. 23-ranked Sun Devils to escape with a 71-70 win Sunday at GCU Arena.

The Sun Devils were coming off an 80-69 loss to San Diego State.  The Aztecs were ranked No. 25, but play in the Mountain West Conference and were considered the underdog to the Power 5 school.  ASU beat SDSU, 90-68, the last time they played, in 2017.

GCU, a second-tier D-I program that plays in the WAC, stayed close to the Pac-12 visitors throughout the game as the lead changed hands 14 times.  At one point in the second half, the Sun Devils were able to stretch a lead to eight points, while the ‘Lopes led by as many as seven early in the first half.

Not the kind of outcome you’d expect from a ranked Power 5 team taking on an in-state opponent that just four years ago finished transitioning from a D-II program.

This is supposed to be one of the best teams Coach Bobby Hurley has assembled in the seven years he’s been in Tempe, with more depth and scoring ability than last year’s 22-11 squad that tied for third place in the Pac-12.

The Sun Devils entered the season with a No. 17 national ranking and were projected for a second-place finish in the conference.

Hurley has one of the deepest backcourts in the country, with returners Martin (pictured above, center)and Alonzo Verge joining with incoming freshman Josh Christopher, the tenth-ranked prospect in the country.

The trio accounted for 51 points against GCU, with Martin pouring in 31 points by himself.  And Holland Woods, an Apollo High School graduate who transferred in from Portland State this season, is giving the team a big boost off the bench, scoring 10 points against GCU.  The 6’1″ guard was the fifth-best scorer (17.7 ppg) in the Big Sky Conference last season and is the Portland State career assists leader.

Martin averaged 19 points and four assists per game last season and was a first-team All-Pac 12 selection.  Verge scored at a 14.6 ppg clip and was voted the conference’s Sixth Man of the Year.  Both players had declared for the NBA draft, but decided to return for another season.

The addition of Christopher has really elevated the expectations for this team.  At No. 10 in the 247Sports individual national rankings, he’s the highest-rated recruit in program history.  As a senior at Mayfair High School in California, he averaged 39.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and better than four assists a game.

Marcus Bagley, a 6’8″ freshman forward who also stepped into a starting role, gives the Sun Devils some additional size and scoring down low.  Bagley, brother of Marvin Bagley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, was the No. 27 recruit in the nation (247Sports) and was averaging 13 points a game before an injury sidelined him for the last two contests.

The Devils (4-2) will have to re-focus for tonight’s home game against University of Texas El Paso, a 2-2 team that plays in Conference USA.

This is another one the Devils should win — without as much effort as it took against the ‘Lopes.

It’s time for ASU to begin looking like the team it was supposed to be this season.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)