Every season has to start somewhere, and the Arizona State Sun Devils opened their 2016-17 campaign Thursday night with an exhibition game in front of a quarter-filled Wells Fargo Arena.
The contest could best be defined as being sleepy at times, and lethargic at others. But by the time all 40 minutes had expired, Arizona State emerged injury-free with a commanding 98-53 victory over visiting UC Santa Cruz.
All things considered, the night was a good one for head coach Bobby Hurley and the rest of the Sun Devils.
"It wasn't particularly enthusiastic for the first eight minutes of the game,” said Hurley after the win. “Most times you play that way, for that amount of time, you're not going to get a great result. But the energy did get better.”
No one was better on this night than Buffalo transfer Torian Graham, who led all scorers with 23 points off the bench. It was also Graham who buried three consecutive three-pointers to end the first half, turning a 14-point advantage into a much more palatable 23-point lead.
It was all Banana Slugs in the opening minutes, however, as the visitors from Santa Cruz came out with more fire than Arizona State. A quick burst gave them a 12-4 advantage out of the gates, but the Sun Devils quickly answered with a 16-3 run to seize the lead for good.
"We try and practice hard and have the right culture,” Hurley said when asked about the team’s hustle in the exhibition game. “We talk about playing every possession of the game as hard as we can no matter what the score is. We just have to accumulate those types of possessions."
The hustle, combined with the sheer talent gap between the two teams, started to show on the scoreboard late in the first half and into the final 20 minutes of the game.
Graham’s barrage of three-pointers made the score 46-23 at the halftime break, and that advantage was extended to 36 points after the team opened the second stanza on a 25-9 binge.
The wide margin allowed Hurley to experiment with even more rotations than usual for a non-counting game, which led to guys like Andre Adams, Ramon Vila, and Austin Witherill receiving some extended run in the second half.
The exhibition marked a return to game action for Adams, who is nearly fully recovered after tearing his ACL twice - first in high school and then again last year as a freshman. The forward finished with four points and two rebounds in 13 minutes of action.
"He’s moving better and we’re building on his reps,” said Hurley. “I think the fact he was able to play 13 minutes tonight was a good sign. He has been through a lot with these surgeries, so we’re going to be patient with him.”
The Maroon and Gold actually had a chance to hit the century mark in the final minute of the game, but a pair of missed layups kept their total at 98. They did get the ball back for one last look with just under 30 seconds remaining, but a polite Hurley ordered the team not to put up another shot.
Arizona State now sets its sights on the final week of practices leading up to its regular season opener, which will be played just eight days from now against Portland State.
There are still plenty of unknowns and question marks facing the team, but at the very least, they are a confident bunch.
“We work hard every day and are really coming together as a team,” Graham says. “I think we’re going to shock a lot of people.”