DAYTON, Ohio – Earlier in the week, Arizona State basketball coach Bobby Hurley was asked about a potential first-round matchup against the school he left to coach the Sun Devils: Buffalo.
Hurley knew better than to offer a comment since his team first needed to win a play-in game against St. John's.
He can officially talk about facing the Bulls now after ASU chalked up a 74-65 victory over the Red Storm in a First Four game Wednesday night.
No. 11 ASU (23-10), the second-place finisher in the Pac-12, now moves on to the first round in the West Region against No. 6 Buffalo (31-3) on Friday in Tulsa, Okla.
Luguentz Dort #0 of the Arizona State Sun Devils drives to the basket against Sedee Keita #0 of the St. John's Red Storm during the first half in the First Four of the 2019 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at UD Arena on March 20, 2019 in Dayton, Ohio. (Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Hurley is happy the season is continuing, stressing the tight-knit bond he has with his players and that they have with each other.
"They’re just so fun to coach," Hurley said. "That just means I get to coach them again for a few more days and that’s what this tournament’s about. I loved our effort and how we played in the first half. We've got to take care of the ball better, so we’ll have to get to the drawing board on that and clean it up going into our next game."
It was nice to win a playoff game but the Sun Devils have made it clear, they aren't prepared for just a cameo appearance.
"We didn't pack for just one game," senior forward Zylan Cheatham said. "We're locked in. We're really focused and obviously this is a big step in the right direction. But we're not content by any means."
Guard Luguentz Dort discusses ASU's First Four win over St. John's with Cronkite News' Chancellor Johnson in Dayton on Wednesday.
The final First Four game at the University of Dayton Arena matched a couple of teams with modest resumes when it comes to recent success in the postseason. ASU was making back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 1981, and it had not won a postseason game since 2009 when it defeated Temple in the first round 66-57, then lost to Syracuse 78-67.
Meanwhile, St. John's had not been in the playoffs since 2015 and had not won a postseason game since 2000. The Red Storm also looked little like a postseason team coming in, having lost five of its last seven games and settling for seventh in the Big East.
The ASU team looked calm, composed and determined for the first 15 minutes, surging out to an 18-point lead, going up 35-17 on a pair of free throws by freshman Luguentz Dort with 5:17 left. The Sun Devils made 13 of their first 21 shots from the field while St. John's struggled, making only seven of its first 26 tries.
"I really love how we started and really took control of the game," Hurley said. "I thought our defense was very good. We mixed our defenses up some, and our zone was pretty effective. And we played well on the offensive end."
As ASU has done this season, it then had a stretch of turnovers and poor shot selection and the Red Storm were able to close the gap slightly and trailed at the half 38-25.
The Sun Devils started the second half the way they ended the first and St. John's inched to with in seven points at 40-33 three minutes into the half.
ASU sophomore point guard Remy Martin played despite being slowed by a mild groin strain sustained in ASU's Pac-12 semifinal loss to Oregon last Friday. He played 11 minutes in the opening half but was on the bench when the Red Storm made their run and cut the deficit to seven.
He ended up playing 23 minutes with Hurley trying to give him a break when the Sun Devils were up big. Martin finished with six points, four rebounds and three assists but had an uncharacteristic, season-high six turnovers. He made no excuses.
"As long as I'm between the lines I'm 100 percent," he said.
Martin wasn't the only one banged up. Dort took a hard foul in the opening minute of the second half, injuring a knee. He came out of the game and Rob Edward went to the line, making two free throws for him. But Dort returned after having a couple of minute to gather himself.
"I hit my knee and butt a little bit and just had to walk through it," he said.
St John's, coached by former NBA great Chris Mullin, was within seven for the last time at 64-57 and had the chance to get closer with Justin Simon at the line after a foul but he missed two free throws with 2:02 left. ASU converted at its end on a dunk by Romello White with 1:49 to go after a frantic possession.
The Sun Devils hung on from there and improved to 9-1 in games after a loss.
Dort led ASU with 21 points, his ninth game of 20 points or more. Cheatham notched his 14th double-double of the season with 14 points, 10 rebounds and two steals. Edwards managed nine points with eight rebounds as ASU shot 44.9 percent (22 for 49).
St John's shot just 31.9 percent (22 for 69). It got 25 points from Shamorie Ponds and 19 points and 10 rebounds from L.J. Figueroa.
And yes, now Hurley can talk about Buffalo, which is coached by Nate Oats, his former lead assistant.
"I have so much love and enjoyed those years so much and felt so proud of what Nate's doing so it’s going to be a little surreal you know I haven’t had a chance to allow that to register I was just fighting for my life to get this win," he said.
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