Through two games, it hasn't been about how Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley’s team starts, but how it finishes.
The same held true Sunday night, as the Arizona State Sun Devils earned their second victory of the 2016-17 season, defeating the Cal Poly Mustangs 96-74. The Sun Devils managed to pull away from the visitors despite holding a one-point halftime lead.
“For us to have to respond late in the first half, early second half, I think is good for us,” Hurley said.
The Sun Devils finished the game shooting 50.9 percent from the field, overcoming a slow start during which they made just one for their first five attempts.
The controlled, aggressive play of guards Tra Holder (24 points, 3 of 5 3-pointers) and Shannon Evans II (20 points, 12 of 12 free throws) lifted ASU to a 23-13 lead during the first half, however the Mustangs’ sharp-shooting enabled them to remain competitive.
Cal Poly knocked down 7 of 17 3-pointers and shot 50 percent overall during the first half while preventing the Sun Devil offense from making a field goal over the final 5:21 of the frame. The Mustangs even managed to take a 38-36 lead, but the Sun Devils were able to overcome shooting 40 percent to enter halftime with a 39-38 lead.
Evans said the team emphasized “being aggressive” after the first half.
“We had a few times on defensive where we were just lackadaisical,” he said. “At halftime we had talked about picking the ball up, pressuring it, playing with defensive energy.”
Out of the break, Hurley ensured there was more energy on the court, altering his lineup by placing Torian Graham (18 points, seven rebounds) on the floor. Four of the senior’s first eight second-half points came on two crowd-pleasing dunks which spurred ASU to take a 55-53 advantage.
“Torian was every bit as good as he was the first game,” Hurley said. “He provides the spark on offense. He’s a pure scorer.”
From there, the ASU offense settled, attacking the rim and getting to free-throw line with ease. Hurley’s unit didn’t relinquish its lead at any point, eventually pulling away for the win.
The Sun Devils had a strong offensive night marked by four players reaching double-figures. Holder, Evans, and Graham’s efforts were combined with forward Obinna Oleka’s, who notched a double-double compiling 17 points and 13 rebounds.
More impressively, over a third of the team’s total output came at the free-throw line, with the Sun Devils posting nearly double the amount of attempts the Mustangs did (42-22).
Hurley said ASU’s strong night from the charity stripe (33 of 42, 78.6 percent) was a result of the way his guards force opponents to play larger defenders who aren’t capable of containing them off-dribble.
“They were fouling us a lot because their five-man can’t guard Shannon or Tra, so we’re getting to the free-throw line quite a bit,” Hurley said. “Having guys that can break down a defense off the dribble puts yourself in a great position to get to the free-throw line.”
The second-year coach had high praise for Holder, who tallied at least 20 points for the ninth time in his career. The junior made 7 of 11 free throws.
“Tra has been super,” Hurley said of his starting point guard. “Outstanding play from him.”
The Sun Devils will next travel to Orlando, Fla., to take part in the Tire Pros Invitational. Their first game features a matchup with Northern Iowa, then a contest with either Oklahoma or Tulane.
“We’re excited,” Evans said of the upcoming challenge. “We’re ready to go.”
Hurley says it’s “great that we’re having the success we’re having” early in the year, adding, “I don’t think we’re coming to close yet to what our potential would be.”