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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils host No. 9 Creighton in historic home matchup

The Bluejays are the highest-ranked non-conference opponent to enter Wells Fargo Arena since 1980.

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Sun Devils will hit the floor Tuesday night to take on the No. 9 Creighton Bluejays at Wells Fargo Arena. It’s the second contest of a three-game homestand for the Sun Devils before they start Pac-12 play on Dec. 30 at Stanford.

The Bluejays will be the highest-ranked non-conference opponent the Sun Devils will host since 1980, when then-No. 7 Ohio State visited Tempe.

ASU is looking to rebound after suffering its fifth loss of the year to New Mexico State. It was the first game the Sun Devils played without Sam Cunliffe, who is no longer with the program. The 11-point defeat served as an abrupt reminder that Bobby Hurley’s group is still searching for continuity and an identity. The question: will either be revealed during tonight’s matchup?

Tip-off: 7:00 p.m. MST

Television: ESPN2 (Eric Rothman, Kara Lawson)

Arizona State (6-5) Update:

Momentum is real, but it’s been quickly halted.

ASU’s road win over San Diego State was followed by a tough loss against an NMSU team that extended its winning streak to eight games. On Monday, head coach Bobby Hurley said his team failed to flip the switch between offense to defense in order to eliminate giving up easy baskets.

“The times we got in our defense set and pushed those guys through a possession, we were more effective defensively,” Hurley said. “We have to do a better job of that.

“Our transition defense, I think, hurt us in the first half against New Mexico State,” he added. “You can’t give away baskets easily to good teams, so we worked on that in practice. Creighton will challenge that because they get up and down the court as good as really anyone we’ll probably play this year.”

The task is daunting, but there’s hope to be had—last season, ASU took down Creighton 79-77 on the road.

Creighton (11-0) Update:

The Bluejays are just one of six remaining undefeated teams entering Tuesday after digging out a 66-65 victory over lowly Oral Roberts.

Creighton is eight in the country in scoring, averaging 89.3 points per game with Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster (18.2 ppg) leading the way. ASU currently concedes 82.2 points per game, which ranks 325th nationally.

“One of the best offensive teams in the country,” Hurley said of the Bluejays. “They can hurt you in a variety of ways—scoring around the basket, great 3-point shooting team, one of the best backcourt tandems in the country—so we’re gonna have our hands full, especially coming off a tough loss.”

The Creighton offense leads the nation in 3-point percentage, hitting 44.2 percent of their attempts per game. A huge key to this is the passing talents of senior guard Maurice Watson Jr., who leads the country with 9.2 assists per game.

Hurley had plenty of high praise for Watson, describing him as “the straw that stirs the drink.”

“He has a good motor, pushes the ball well, and makes guys better,” Hurley said. “He does what point guards are supposed to do, and it shows with his assist totals. He’s got great quickness, great handle, good on-ball screens. He can get into a crease, can get into a seam in a defense, draw help, and he’s great at locating shooters, locating guys rolling to the basket.”

ASU guard Shannon Evans II says the Sun Devils’ defensive strategy must enforce chasing the Bluejays’ shooters off the perimeter.

“Make them finish over our bigs,” he said. “That’s the main thing we’re trying to focus on.”

Keys to an ASU victory:

1. Stop Watson, Control the Perimeter

Active defense at the 3-point line could be the difference for the Sun Devils.

“A team like that, we just gotta try and get up all in them,” Evans said. “Me and Tra (Holder) have to do a good job (guarding along the perimeter).”

In wins this season, ASU has held opponents to a combined average of 31.2 percent 3-point shooting. In losses its opponents have shot a combined 41 percent from behind the arc, demonstrating a significant margin.

2. High Energy

This essentially repeats our keys to the Sun Devils’ previous matchup, but ASU still has a tendency to start, as Evans has phrased it, “lackadaisical.” Against such a high-powered offense in Creighton, getting down early could pit the Sun Devils in a position they won’t be able to battle back from.

“This is an opportunity that you live for, being a college basketball player where a top-10 opponent comes in your place,” Evans said. “I’m excited. I’m ready to go, and the guys in my locker room are excited as well.”

Prediction: Arizona State - 63, Creighton - 75