Senior forward Zylan Cheatham admitted to being a bit nervous in his ASU debut earlier this week. The Phoenix native had a solid game in his first outing since coming home but fouled out in regulation.
He felt much more comfortable in his second try and it showed. Cheatham tallied 16 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block in leading the Sun Devils past visiting McNeese State 80-52 in non-conference play in front of 8,515 on Friday at Wells Fargo Arena.
“I never usually get nervous for a game but that game I was definitely nervous,” Cheatham said of his debut. “I remember telling myself, ‘Please don’t air ball the first two shots.’ ”
Cheatham, who redshirted last year after transferring from San Diego State, managed nine of his 16 points in the second half as the Sun Devils (2-0) finally separated themselves from the Cowboys (0-2). He dunked to make it 35-25 then added a pair of free throws the next trip down the floor for an 11-point advantage.
But the play that brought the crowd to its feet came with 12:15 left. He swiped the ball from a McNeese State player at midcourt, then raced the other way and put down a windmill dunk that extended the lead to 53-32.
McNeese State was not in striking distance again.
Head coach Bobby Hurley said the game plan was to get Cheatham more touches because he had the advantage down low. When Cheatham wasn’t scoring, he was drawing the foul and going to the line. Eight of his points came as free throws.
“He talked to me about that,” Cheatham said. “We looked at it as a mismatch, something we could go to and for sure get some offense.”
Cheatham had to come out of the game briefly after picking up his third foul with 11:04 left and the Sun Devils up 55-34, but returned three minutes later with the Sun Devils still up comfortably 61-38.
“Tonight was Zylan’s night,” Hurley said. “We played through him.”
Much like they did in Tuesday’s season opener, the Sun Devils got off to a slow start. The Cowboys, who lost their season opener earlier this week at St. Mary’s, jumped out to a 7-3 lead as ASU managed to hit just one of its first six shots and one of its first three free throws.
The Sun Devils rallied back, taking their first lead at 9-8 on a bucket by De’Quon Lake. That lead would grow to 12 points twice in the half, the first coming when Cheatham connected on a pair of free throws to make it 25-13 with 7:02 left before halftime.
The second 12-point advantage came with 44 seconds left in the half on a three-point play by Luguentz Dort that made it 33-21.
McNeese State got another bucket and had the chance to cut the deficit to eight in the closing seconds of the half but Dort raced up from behind and blocked a shot by McNeese State’s Myles Hutchinson on a fast break just as the half ended.
Dort, who had 28 points in his ASU debut on Tuesday, was equally impressive in his second showing. He registered a team-high 25 points, shooting 10 of 18 from the field.
Nine players factored into the scoring as Hurley was able to pull his starters early with the outcome in hand. Kimani Lawrence added 16 points and six rebounds as the Sun Devils shot 46 percent (27 for 59) from the field. ASU also hit 21 of 27 tries from the line, an area in which they were deficient in Tuesday’s win.
The Sun Devils also finished with a 43-31 advantage on the boards.
Sophomore point guard Kevin Hunt led McNeese with 15 points. The Cowboys shot just 31.9 percent (15 of 47).
The Sun Devils had numerous injuries that slowed their preparation for the season, with starting point guard Remy Martin slowed by an ankle injury. He played 28 minutes and had six points and five assists on Friday, but still isn’t full strength.
The latest was a back injury that kept junior guard Rob Edwards out of the game. Hurley said Edwards, who had 14 points in Tuesday’s opener, felt better on Friday than he did the previous day but couldn’t say whether he would be available for Monday’s home game against Long Beach State (1-1).
“We’re going to be a work in progress,” Hurley said. “I feel good about the result but we’re going to get better.”