TEMPE – Adam Miller came up big early and when it mattered most as Arizona State men’s basketball took down Colorado 76-73 on Saturday at Desert Financial Arena.
The win over the Buffaloes (11-4, 2-2 Pac-12) gave the Sun Devils a 4-0 start in Pac-12 play. It is the first time ASU (10-5, 4-0 Pac-12) has been undefeated in conference play through four games since James Harden wore the maroon and gold in the 2007-08 season.
The unbeaten conference start may come as a surprise to some as the Sun Devils entered Pac-12 play 6-5 and coming off a 65-46 loss to Northwestern on Dec. 20.
“It was soul searching after (the) Northwestern game,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “Having those hard conversations about what direction do we want the season to go and everybody needs to sacrifice and we need to not fight each other. We need to collectively go after our opponent, and I see that our attitude is better, our approach is better, our unselfishness is better and you could just see that there’s a better team dynamic right now.”
Miller’s addition to the lineup and continued game reps with his teammates has contributed to the turnaround, as well. A transfer from LSU, he was unable to start the season with the Sun Devils as his move to ASU was his second transfer before graduating. The NCAA was in the process of reviewing Miller’s waiver and if it was approved, he would have been eligible for the remaining games on ASU’s schedule. The Sun Devil guard’s waiver was denied, Hurley announced early in December.
However, due to a ruling by a federal judge later in December, Miller and other multi-time transfers were granted eligibility for the rest of the 2023-24 academic year. And since joining the lineup on Dec. 16 against TCU, Miller has scored in double figures in four of his six games.
Three of his double-digit outputs have come in Pac-12 play, including on Saturday. He scored 14 of his 18 points in the first half, making 3-of-5 3-point attempts. His three shots from distance were part of six 3-pointers ASU made in the first 20 minutes of action.
While he scored only the four points in the second half, Miller sunk two free throws with just over one minute left in the game to give ASU a 72-70 lead. His free throws were part of 6-of-8 the Sun Devils made in the final minute and change. Prior to the last 1:04 Saturday, ASU was shooting 12-for-19 (63.2 percent) from the foul line.
Miller discussed how the last few weeks have been for him and his performance on Saturday.
“Tough,” Miller said. “I thought about this a couple days ago. Everybody kept asking me and telling me, ‘You must be so happy to be playing.’ I was really honestly still upset. … I was happy to be able to be playing but last summer was the first summer since before I tore my ACL that I actually had a full summer to prepare for a season.
“I prepared my ass off, worked with these guys, went overseas with these guys, played with them. Didn’t play no scrimmage, barely any of the non-conference games. So, I think it was upsetting but I was just grateful for the opportunity. This game and coming home, I’ve just been trying to find my rhythm. Because that first game I came out pretty hot. And I think I kind of let it think like, ‘Okay, I’m good now.’ Then that second game, I’m like, ‘Ok, I got to still work my way back into this.’ So I think this week for me was just finding a rhythm, and I got a good rhythm in this game.”
Guard Jamiya Neal had a team-high 19 points in the game, including a stretch in the second half where he scored nine straight points for the Sun Devils.
Forward Byrant Selebangue also came in clutch in the second half. With ASU big men Alonzo Gaffney and Shawn Phillips Jr. in foul trouble, Selebangue was forced into an increased role down the stretch. When Colorado cut ASU’s game-high 10-point lead to two with 6:37 left, Selebangue converted a 3-point play to put the Sun Devils’ up by five with 5:52 left.
“I was really happy for him because he works hard,” Hurley said. “Day in and day out he works. And he just had his motor going at a different level than he’s had just with his activity, finishing around the basket, guarding … so this was by far the best we’ve seen him.”
After Colorado tied the game at 66-66 with 4:53 left, Selebangue put back a missed layup by Frankie Collins to give ASU the lead at 68-66 with 4:10 left.
The Sun Devils’ active defense also was an aide to their close victory on Saturday. They had 11 steals and eight blocks as a team.
“Defense has been a big emphasis and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” Miller said. “We get a lot of buckets off of that.”
ASU plays one game next week, facing Washington on the road at 9 p.m. on Thursday.
All of the action can be heard on ESPN 620 AM, the Arizona Sports app and ArizonaSports.com.