The nature of early out of conference college basketball games for power five conference teams is so they have the ability to get their feet under them against sub-par competition. On Friday night, the inferior opponent came in the form of Chicago State. The Cougars hung around in the early going, jumping off the bench as they closed the gap to 16-15 with 11:51 in the first half.
CSU was then brought back down to earth, reminded of the very nature of college basketball in its infancy every season as bigger programs beat up on smaller ones like the Cougars.
A layup by Tra Holder sparked a 13-0 run in the middle of the first half with eight points by Shaquielle McKissic to expand the Arizona State lead to 29-15.
"We're always talking amongst ourselves and we said, you know, we've got to get the energy up," McKissic said. "Once it got going, it's kind of like an avalanche."
The Sun Devils would only continue to expand their margin of victory in the second half, stringing together a 17-0 run to trounce any chance of a CSU comeback and widen the Arizona State lead to 69-37. But just because they won by a large margin doesn't mean the team wasn't anxious about the first game of the season.
"I mean I had butterflies today," head coach Herb Sendek said. "I mean if you're a competitor, I don't know how you avoid that."
The team relied on three things: preparation, connectivity and effort to come away with the win. McKissic had a career high 20 points while junior college transfer Gerry Blakes added 11 points and seven assists.
"I feel like coach preaches to us, our m.o. is being together and being connected," McKissic said. "I feel like behind the scenes and off the court we do a great job of bonding with one another and just trying to develop that chemistry."
That closeness was on display Friday as well when the maroon and gold came away with 17 assists on 49 shots and played stout defense. It was the second fewest points Arizona State has allowed in at least the past 33 games.
"Coach was emphasizing winning every four minutes so we would try to win 'this four minutes and this four minutes and this four minutes' like mini games within the games," Blakes said. "So us being competitors we were just trying to win every four minute segment which helped us get the lead and get stops."
While it was a cupcake non-conference win stereotypical of college basketball scheduling. Sendek said his only goal was to win the game and move forward to Bethune-Cookman on Monday night. While McKissic fell just five points short of breaking James Harden's opening night scoring record of 25 points, his emotions were mixed about the Sun Devils first victory.
"We can't get complacent with Chicago State," McKissic said. "We've got to turn around on Monday and then we've got a tourney next week. We're kind of just excited about the defense though from that game."