The Arizona State Sun Devils have shown a tendency this season to play to their level of competition. ASU has wins over Texas A&M and UNLV with a tightly contested (for 3/4 of the game) loss to Kentucky. However, they lost to Sacramento State and only beat UC Santa Barbara by two points.
On Saturday against Houston Baptist, the Sun Devils broke that trend. ASU dominated the Huskies to the tune of a 98-79 victory in front of 4,573 fans at Wells Fargo Arena. While head coach Bobby Hurley was pleased with this team's offense, their defense left something to be desired.
"It was a good win for our confidence on offense," said Hurley. "I was ok with our defense until the last eight minutes. I think sometimes when the game is that lopsided the the tendency is to revert so to some selfishness. We were thinking about offense too much and not enough about defense."
The Sun Devils were paced by the backcourt tandem of Tra Holder and Kodi Justice. Holder, fresh off scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds against UNLV, tallied 17 points and seven assists. Justice came off the bench and notched a career-high 20 points on 6-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Holder and Justice shot a combined 12-19 from the field.
"You can see him gaining a lot of confidence, he's doing this on a pretty consistent basis," Hurley said about Justice. "He gives us that weapon on the three-point line and he's really more than that. He does a lot of things for us offensively and it's really exciting to have a young player like him and to see him and Tra develop the way they are."
There was a stretch in the second half where Justice blocked a shot in transition, grabbed a rebound and hit a three within about 30 seconds.
"My teammates found me and I got in a rhythm," said Justice. "They were in a zone and they kept packing it in and I was going to let it go and I hit a few and I got rolling."
Following an emotional victory on the road against UNLV, Hurley and his staff feared a let down. They were playing a 4-6 team from the Southland Conference at 12:30 in the afternoon.
ASU began the game just 3-12 from the field and and the game was tied at 12 six minutes into the game.
"I wouldn't say the first four minutes were a let down," said Justice. "It was 12:30 in the afternoon, we were trying to get our bodies loose. We were trying to wake up and get ready."
The Sun Devils responded with a 9-0 run to take a six point lead midway through the half and never looked back. ASU scored a season-high 49 points in the first half.
Senior forward Eric Jacobsen powered the Sun Devils in the opening half, as he scored 10 points on 3-6 shooting in the game's first 20 minutes. He big man scored five of ASU's first seven points.
"We like to throw it inside and establish ourselves in the paint," Hurley said. "If you get some things done early in the game in the lane the court opens up some for our guards."
After a series of close games, the Sun Devils led by at least 20 points for most of the second half. With two minutes left, Hurley emptied his bench and put walk-ons Austin Witherill, Shazier Lawson and Tyler Harris in the game, only to take them out and put the starters back in the game less than a minute later.
"Any minutes that a player is on the court are important minutes, no matter what the score is," Hurley said. "I didn't like what was going on with the substitutions that I made and I wanted us to leave the court on good terms."
The Sun Devils will attempt to leave the court on good terms again on Tuesday afternoon when they host Stephen F. Austin.