LAS VEGAS - Another one.
For the second game in a row, the Arizona State Sun Devils found themselves down at halftime in hostile territory Wednesday night. The Sun Devils' 3-point shot wasn't falling, but coach Bobby Hurley had to keep his team scrappy, as it failed to take the lead against the Kentucky Wildcats last weekend down just one point at the break.
This time, the Sun Devils kept fighting.
After being down 37-25 at halftime, Arizona State turned it around in the second half by going on a 26-5 run that lapsed for most of the period and stayed relentless. In the final minute, Hurley let out a banshee scream as the Sun Devils (7-3) defeated the UNLV Runnin' Rebels 66-56 in the Thomas & Mack Center.
"We've been in deficits before and we've been in tough spots before, so the guys believed," Hurley said.
Just 10 games in to nonconference play, Hurley has already received national praise for turning ASU into a team known for its grit and fight. With surprising road wins over the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the Creighton Bluejays, Hurley's Sun Devils may have delivered their best win yet.
"We didn't want to lose, so we do whatever it takes for us to win," said ASU guard Gerry Blakes, who finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
ASU made a complete turnaround from its sloppy first half. With Savon Goodman, who played in UNLV in 2012-13, out due to personal reasons, ASU struggled with UNLV's length and athleticism throughout the game. The Sun Devils couldn't get anything going in a bizarre first half, which saw the shot clock malfunctioning for the first 10 minutes of the game.
The Sun Devils shot a measly 29.4 percent from the field while going 1-for-13 from the perimeter. Meanwhile, UNLV (8-3) shot 50 percent from the field to pull away with a 10-2 run and enter the locker room with a 12-point advantage.
Despite being down, ASU led UNLV on offensive rebounds 10-0, and the fight was still there.
The Sun Devils entered the second half abusing UNLV's defense with pick-n-rolls led by guard Tra Holder. Holder scored 13 of his 19 points in the second half.
"Tra just keeps impressing me over and over again," Hurley said. "He's come really far in his career and his development. He's been making big plays for us and he got us going to start the second half."
Holder said he knew UNLV would let ASU back in the game. As shots weren't falling and UNLV making tough shots of its own, Holder found a few ways to attack the Runnin' Rebels to keep the Sun Devils in it.
"I noticed [UNLV freshman center Stephen] Zimmerman was in foul trouble, so I was trying to go in his chest," Holder said. "In the second half, I tried to see what I could do for others because I knew they were going to collapse on me."
As the Sun Devils remained aggressive against UNLV, the Runnin' Rebels hardly had any answers, going into two different scoring droughts lasting more than three minutes. ASU eventually took the lead at 51-50 with 7:51 left in the game off of Eric Jacobsen's free throw, and the Sun Devils pulled away on a 15-6 run from that point on to end the game.
Zimmerman, who was a five-star prospect out of high school, was the Runnin' Rebels' leading scorer with just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting with four fouls.
ASU's backcourt finished with a combined statline of 32 points and 20 rebounds, even against UNLV's clear length advantage. ASU improved to 56.2 percent from the field in the second half while UNLV shot 19.2 percent.
Not only did the win over UNLV garner more national respect for the Sun Devils, the victory could also have major implications for ASU's NCAA tournament chances, as it shows up as another quality win on the resume.
"To win on the road is respected against good teams, and I think UNLV certainly has a very good chance to win their league this year," Hurley said. "I feel really good what I saw against Creighton and then Texas A&M and then NC State, so we've beaten some high-quality opponents."