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ASU vs. Creighton: ‘Scrappy’ Sun Devils fall short, 96-85, in high-energy contest

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The Sun Devils were anything but flat in their loss to undefeated Creighton.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Hurley isn’t much for moral victories—basketball is, after all, a results-based game. However, the second-year Arizona State coach wasn’t critical of his players’ efforts on Tuesday night.

In fact, he applauded them.

“We scrambled, we fought, we pressed,” Hurley said of his team’s play. “That was exciting to see.”

The Sun Devils may have fallen 96-85 against the No. 9 Creighton Bluejays, but concealed in the final margin was the energy and fight the Sun Devils (6-6) displayed for 40 minutes.

“We’re gonna keep asking that that type of effort is consistent,” Hurley said. “I think if we do that, we’ll have a lot chances to win games.”

This was a performance the Sun Devils could hang their hat on, unlike recent outings where they’ve shown up self-descriptively “flat,” “lackadaisical” and “lacking energy.”

“I think we played really scrappy,” ASU starting point guard Tra Holder said. “Probably one of our most scrappy games during the season.”

It certainly started that way.

The Sun Devils forced two turnovers and held the Bluejays (12-0)—the eighth highest-scoring team in the nation—without any points through their opening five possessions.

Offensively, Holder paced ASU to a surprising 9-0 lead, tallying five of his team-high 24 total points. Shannon Evans II found Obinna Oleka for an alley-oop slam in transition to highlight the run.

Wells Fargo Arena—hosting a large contingent supporting the away side—was rocking.

“I thought we had the right mindset, especially on defense,” Hurley said. “We were generating stops.”

ASU stretched its first-half lead to 15-9 before the Creighton offense, which entered the night shooting at a country-leading 44.2-percent clip from 3-point range, caught fire from behind the arc.

Bluejays guard Isaiah Zierden and forward Toby Hegner combined to make their first five 3-pointers, catapulting Creighton to a 23-22 lead with 10:58 to go in the opening frame. Two more triples from forward Cole Huff and guard Marcus Foster helped extend the advantage to 34-28, putting the Sun Devils in a hole.

ASU responded with a 7-0 run capped by a Holder 3-pointer to go ahead 35-34, but Creighton countered with a 11-3 run of its own to close out the half with a 45-38 lead.

Hurley said he told his players to try and channel the same energy they did when they used a quick run out of halftime in their come-from-behind win over San Diego State.

“We talked about (trying to) get back to San Diego where we came out and took control of the game in the second half and made them chase us,” Hurley said.

The Sun Devils weren’t as fortunate this time around.

Out of the break, the Bluejays’ sharp shooting enabled them to put the game seemingly out of reach. Creighton knocked down 10 of its first 15 shot attempts, including 4 of 6 from 3-point territory to take a commanding 71-53 lead with 10 minutes left.

“We kind of came out a little stagnant, kind of were a little tired to start off,” senior guard Kodi Justice said. “Then we kind of picked it back up, and they made quite a few 3’s there, and we were behind quick.”

The Sun Devils were staring down the barrel of a 20-point deficit on national television once again. But this time, they didn’t roll over.

They battled, and did so fiercely, earning the respect of their head coach.

“That was a point where you learn a lot about their character and if they’re responding appropriately, and the answer was ‘yes,’” Hurley said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for how the team competed—diving on the floor for loose balls, scrambling to try and create turnovers, giving us a chance to stay in the game, and keep pushing forward—and the guys did that until the very end.”

An 11-3 run drew ASU within 10, but another 7-0 spurt from Creighton put the game away for good.

The Bluejays made 16 of 24 shot attempts in the second half, going 6-for-9 from 3-point range, ensuring they remained unbeaten.

On a night where ASU needed its shots to fall, the Sun Devils shot just 45.7 percent from the field and 28 percent on 3-point attempts.

“It was tough,” Justice said. “They made difficult shots. When a team comes in here and hits 14 3’s, it’s hard to come out with a victory, but I felt like with our effort we were still out there competing.

“We never gave up,” he added. “We kept fighting until the last minute.”

Said Hurley: “If we can play that way consistently throughout the rest of the season, then we’ll have some success.”

The loss marks the first two-game losing streak of the season for the Sun Devils, who will look to rebound with a home game against Central Arkansas on Thursday, Dec. 22 at Wells Fargo Arena, to wrap up their non-conference schedule.

Game Notes

  • During the game, FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein tweeted that ASU transfer Sam Cunliffe will be visiting Kansas on Jan. 2.

Cunliffe asked for his release from ASU on Dec. 12 following ASU’s victory over San Diego State.

  • With only 8 scholarship players rostered, Hurley welcomed a handful of walk-on students to the roster, and they could be spotted on the floor during pre-game warmups—Chris Odionu (No. 34, guard, freshman, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds), Romaine Jackson (No. 25, guard, freshman, 5-foot-8, 165 pounds), Grant Fogerty (No. 24, guard, freshman, 5-foot-11, 165 pounds) are their names.
  • Mickey Mitchell, an Ohio State transfer added to the roster who will be eligible next December, was seen with the players during pregame, too.
  • Junior guard Maurice O’Field, who was held out of ASU’s game vs. New Mexico State due to a concussion, warmed up with the team and was available to play tonight.
  • Just like they did to start their New York City matchup with then-No. 18 Purdue, Evans and Oleka connected for a vicious alley-oop early in the contest tonight to set the tone.

Stats

  • Tra Holder and Torian Graham each led the Sun Devils in scoring with 24 points.
  • The Sun Devils shot 7 of 25 from 3-point range. The Bluejays made 14 of 25.
  • Obi Oleka notched his third consecutive double-double tonight, tallying 19 points and 16 rebounds. It’s his eighth this year.