364 days ago, the Arizona State Sun Devils started the Bobby Hurley era in Tempe with an ugly 66-63 loss against Sacramento State.
One year later, the vibe was much different inside Wells Fargo Arena on opening night.
Playing with a newfound sharpness and energy that wasn’t seen for much of last season, Arizona State (1-0) got its 2016-17 campaign started off on the right foot with an 88-70 dismissal of the visiting Portland State Vikings on Friday.
"I’m pleased to get the first game under our belt,” said Hurley after the win. “I think we are a work in progress, but we’re finding ourselves. We’re going to keep working and keep improving.”
Led by some lights out shooting from guards Tra Holder and Torian Graham (both of whom had 23 points), the Sun Devils jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead and never looked back.
It did take the team a minute (or two, or three) to get their legs under them, missing a few point blank looks on their first possessions of the night. The drought led to Portland State (0-1) grabbing an early 8-2 advantage, but that would be their largest lead of the night.
Sparked by the presence of Graham off the bench, the hosts used a 20-6 run to turn a one-point lead into a 31-16 advantage with just over five minutes remaining in the first half. The final five minutes of the half went back and forth, keeping the lead at a comfortable margin as Arizona State took a 44-30 advantage into the locker rooms.
"Torian was obviously terrific today shooting the ball,” Hurley said. “He gave us a spark in the first half, and that’s who he’s been for awhile. He’s really embraced the role (of sixth man).”
Graham had more threes than a bad dating site in this game, his first-ever regular season game as a Division-I player. The senior transfer (from Buffalo, by way of Houston, and Chipola JC) took six shots from behind the arc tonight, burying five of them along the way.
And according to him, coming off the bench suits him just fine.
“I just want to win,” said Graham. “When I come off the bench, I can see how the flow of the game is going. I like being a spark and coming in to give them an extra boost.”
While the first 20 minutes may have belonged to the shooting guard, it was Holder’s play that dominated the final stanza. The point guard scored 11 points in the second half (bringing his total on the night to 23) and was the catalyst in ensuring that thoughts of a comeback for the Vikings were never too serious.
Tyler Geving’s team did cut the margin down to 12 with about 15 minutes to play, but an immediate 13-2 run to answer proved to be the final dagger in the side of Portland State.
Leading 87-68 with two minutes remaining, Hurley was able to empty his bench and get his starters out of the game. The final score was 88-70.
“I liked how we competed, particularity in the first half,” Hurley said in summation. “Overall, I was happy with our first effort.”
There may have been some opening night rust, but all things considered, there were many more positives than negatives for the Sun Devils. After all, if you don’t win the first one, you can’t win them all.
And compared to what was seen one year ago on this night, Arizona State will be more than happy with this result.