SAN DIEGO — Bobby Hurley needed to “shake something up.”
In the Arizona State Sun Devils’ 74-63 win over the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday, he did. The second-year head coach inputted center Ramon Vila and forward Kodi Justice into his starting lineup on the road at Viejas Arena, subsequently moving forward Obinna Oleka, a mainstay in Hurley’s starting five, to the bench.
“It’s not necessarily Obi,” Hurley said. “It could have been a number of guys that that call was made for.”
Hurley had to mix it up. The Sun Devils (6-4) entered the night coming off an embarrassing loss to No. 18 Purdue in which they looked lifeless. His team rebounded, displaying more activity Saturday, particularly on the defensive end, en route to picking up the victory.
Still, earning the result didn’t come easy.
Through the early minutes, the Aztecs jumped out to a 14-4 lead, scoring their first six baskets inside the paint. Hurley’s changes didn’t remedy ASU’s problems, as the Sun Devils’ anemic defensive play seemed to course the country from New York to San Diego.
However, just as the Sun Devils managed to claw back from later deficits, they overcame this one. ASU strung an 8-0 run highlighted by back-to-back scores from Oleka, who tallied his fifth double-double of the year, making the score 14-12.
It was a precursor to how the night would go. SDSU managed to regain the advantage thanks to ASU’s 13 first-half turnovers, but the Sun Devils “uncharacteristically sloppy play” didn’t push them out of it.
“We kept ourselves in the game,” Hurley said. “Even though we weren’t very efficient at (the offensive) end.”
ASU trailed by six with three minutes left in the half before Kodi Justice hit one of his two 3-pointers to make the score 25-22. The Sun Devils would go into halftime within striking distance trailing 32-25.
“We didn’t shoot well,” Hurley said of the segment. “We held them to 32 points which kept us in the game.”
This evening, the Sun Devils were tidal—creeping in, then falling out of view, repeating the process again until they were able to fully overwhelm their opponent.
The beginning of the second half provided the breakthrough.
Out of the break, Shannon Evans II, Tra Holder, and Justice knocked down three straight 3-pointers to tie the game. Layups by Holder (17 points) and Jethro Tshisumpa gave ASU a 38-35 lead just four minutes into the second half.
Said Hurley of the stretch: “We had a couple of guys make some shots early that helped”
Quickly, ASU gained the upper hand.
With 14:59 left, Aztecs guard Max Hoetzel made a 3-pointer in hopes of shifting momentum, but the score was answered by Evans on the following possession to keep the Sun Devils ahead when he made the second of his three second-half triples.
“I had a good look,” said Evans, who finished with 16 points. “I stepped into it with a lot of confidence.”
The Sun Devils, confident and unlocked, found their rhythm. After shooting 37.5 percent from the field in the first half, ASU knocked down 50 percent of its shots in the second, including 7 of 14 3’s.
One was what Hurley called “the shot of the game.”
SDSU hustled back from a 53-41 deficit to draw within six. The crowd of 12,414 was rampant, roaring to life when Oleka drilled home a 3-pointer to give ASU a 56-47 lead with seven minutes to go.
Viejas Arena fell silent.
“The crowd was getting back into it, the momentum was shifting,” Hurley recalled. “Obi stepped into the shot with confidence. It might’ve been very deflating for them, but really positive for us.”
The senior echoed his coach.
“I just felt confident in it,” Oleka said of the shot.
The Sun Devils didn’t look back, unbothered by the Aztec’s full-court press and physical presence. When the final buzzer sounded, ASU had won its sixth game of the season, exorcising a multitude of demons within the 40-minute stretch. The Sun Devils coerced SDSU into shooting 29 percent in the second half, allowing only 10 points in the paint during the second half while forcing 17 turnovers.
Tshisumpa, whom Vila was chosen to start over, finished the game with two points, five blocks and three rebounds in 21 minutes. Hurley was very appreciative of his contributions.
“Jethro is a presence around the basket and he made some progress in that game,” he said of the former four-star recruit.
“We played together at both ends of the floor,” Hurley added. “Hopefully, this is a turning for us. Hopefully, we found something to move forward the rest of the year.”
Next, the Sun Devils will host New Mexico State on Saturday, Dec. 17, at Wells Fargo Arena.