The Arizona State Sun Devils snapped their three-game losing streak with one of their best games along the perimeter, sinking 11 3-pointers to propel them to an 86-68 victory over the Oregon State Beavers Thursday in Wells Fargo Arena.
For the first time in four games, the Sun Devils (12-9, 2-6) came charging out of the gates backed by unabated perimeter shooting that gave the Sun Devils a nine-point advantage over the Beavers (12-7, 3-5) early. By the end of the game, five players (Eric Jacobsen, Savon Goodman, Willie Atwood, Gerry Blakes, Obinna Oleka) were all in double figures.
"It's a good feeling right now to see the team play that way," Head Coach Bobby Hurley said. "I thought we had great energy and getting deflections, generating stops and then that probably didn't put as much pressure on our offense and we had a lot of guys playing well and contributing. To have five guys in doubles and two guys with eight, 24 assists on the 32 field goals were great numbers for us on offense and the way that we shot the three."
Atwood was the spark that ignited the run with a three-point swish, followed by a steal to bank it in for two to start off the Sun Devil scoring. Atwood's energy spurred Blakes and Oleka to inflict the same damage from behind the arc.
"(Coach Hurley's) been inspiring to continue to fight through this tough time right now and he emphasizes us starting off the game the right way and that's what led to this victory was us starting off the right way," Blakes said.
Oregon State couldn't get a shot to fall and remained in single digits for the first fifteen minutes of the game. The Sun Devils abounded on a 14-0 run that spanned five minutes and saw the Beavers with a 15-point deficit at 20-5 with 11:40 remaining in the half.
The Sun Devils continued to steamroll their way to the basket using the boards to muscle their shots through the hoop. With seven minutes left in the half, Atwood dished one down low to Goodman who maneuvered through three defenders to post up for the bucket to put the Sun Devils up 23-9.
"Coach always says ‘keep our foot on the gas, don't let up,' because we've been down in games too and we came all the way back to make it a game," Atwood said. "But once we start making shots, Tra can get around and get back to dishing it out so people are making shots and so when we get back to playing Sun Devil basketball, a lot of players are in double figures."
It was ASU's 55 percent from the field against OSU's 17 percent, along with a severely diminished foul count as compared to previous games, that allowed the Sun Devils to maintain the large lead throughout the remainder of the half and go into the locker room up 36-17.
ASU did not cool off in the second half. Oleka started off the second half with a three from the corner followed by a buzzer-beater three to beat the shot clock by Blakes at the 16:50 mark. Despite only shooting 17 percent from three-point land with 15 minutes left in the half, the Beavers were forced outside once again.
Their efforts to get in the paint weren't totally for nothing as they collected an even number of points in the paint (32) as ASU by the end of the game after putting up only four points in the paint at half time.
"Coach emphasizes us getting back to what we did in the preseason, grinding it out, outrebounding teams, wanting it more, so tonight we were in dire need and we all needed to contribute from top to bottom," Blakes said.
The Beavers shot only 38 percent from the free-throw line, which may or may not have been minorly influenced by fellow aquatic dweller Michael Phelps who lunged himself out of the Curtain of Distraction in a speedo halfway through the second half to send Wells Fargo Arena into a frenzy only heard when Arizona comes to town.
"That's the first time that I've seen the curtain of distraction this year," Hurley said. "I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see that, (laughs) he made a major contribution to the game, it was one of the highlights of the night and our crowd fed off of it which was nice and so we really appreciate him helping take two points off the board for us (laughs)."
ASU continued to dominate on the boards on defense while the threes kept flowing on offense, with two more from guard Kodi Justice and wing Andre Spight to put the Sun Devils up 59-37 with ten minutes left to play.
The Beavers implemented the full-court press in a desperate attempt to thwart the Sun Devil's dominance from the floor with eight minutes left to play, but still couldn't get anything to fall on offense, ultimately falling to the hot-handed Sun Devils.
Atwood finished the game with 13 points and six boards, to lead his team to its first victory in the last four games, giving ASU another conference win as they head into Sunday.
"We wanted to avoid droughts and putting ourselves in a deficit early in a game," Hurley said. "Tonight we felt that we played well enough to put ourselves in a position that, in this basketball game, our opponent shouldn't have had a sniff at getting back into the game. It's nice to have a confidence builder performance like we had tonight on offense so that will hopefully trigger additional momentum going forward."
Arizona State will look to carry on its winning ways against Oregon at 6:30 p.m. MST on Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena. ESPNU will have the broadcast.