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ASU Basketball: First true road test awaits Sun Devils in San Diego

Against a lengthy San Diego State squad, shooting the ball accurately will be critical for the Sun Devils.

NCAA Basketball: Utah State at San Diego State
Jan 23, 2016; San Diego Aztec students cheer prior to a game against Utah State at Viejas Arena
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Away from home, the Arizona State Sun Devils have not enjoyed success.

Arizona State (5-4) is 1-4 in neutral site contests and was recently obliterated by then-No. 1 Kentucky (by 46 points) and No. 18 Purdue (by 33).

While the Maroon and Gold have triumphed at home with a 4-0 record, they have yet to play a true road game. Saturday, against the San Diego State Aztecs at 5 p.m. MST will be ASU’s first time playing against an opposing crowd in 12,414-seat Viejas Arena.

The Aztecs (4-3) went 15-4 at home last season and are 3-0 so far this season.

But just like the Sun Devils, San Diego State has struggled away from home too. The Aztecs have lost two straight falling to Loyola Chicago 65-59, and ASU’s neighbor, Grand Canyon, 76-72.

San Diego State has had trouble shooting the ball as they have shot 40 percent or below in their past two games. Also, SDSU is thin on its bench as it was outscored 24-6 against GCU.

One particular advantage that the hosts will have is their height. The Aztecs average 40 rebounds per game compared to Arizona State’s 36. And while for the majority of the season, Arizona State has started 6-foot-8 senior Obinna Oleka at center, the Aztecs will be likely starting 6-foot-9 sophomore Zylan Cheatman and 6-foot-10 junior Malik Pope on Saturday.

6-foot-10 freshman Jethro Tshisumpa would be the next tallest big man to aid Bobby Hurley against the lanky Aztecs. Tshisumpa made his first start of the season against Purdue playing a season-high 15 minutes. He blocked two shots, had two steals, but his lone field goal attempt was missed.

So far this season, the under-sized Sun Devils are not leaning towards utilizing the Congolese player’s towering presence. Tshisumpa has only averaged 5.9 minutes per game.

What Arizona State has relied on is its three-point shooting expertise. The Sun Devils’ record tying 18 three-pointer crazy 97-73 blowout win against UNLV proved the Maroon and Gold can be dangerous when its guards shoot the ball well.

However, after shooting 18-for-36 beyond the arc against UNLV, Purdue held the Sun Devils to just 15.4 percent and 4-for-26 shooting from three-point range.

In a matchup where the Sun Devils are expected to be out rebounded, shooting will be the biggest key to success.

In the preseason, Hurley said he “wouldn’t trade our perimeter with anyone in the country.” Three-point marksmen junior Kodi Justice (.419), junior Shannon Evans (.404) freshman Sam Cunliffe (.400) and senior Torian Graham (.379) have shot the best percentage from three-point land for ASU this season. Evans and Graham also lead the team with 16.9 points per game.

With the Sun Devils averaging 97.6 points per win this season, they’ll have to score plenty again to capture a rare victory at San Diego State.