The last game before Christmas can always be tricky for a big favorite in college basketball.
Focus is often low heading into the break, and upsets are common.
Needing a win over the lowly Central Arkansas Bears on Thursday to snap a two-game losing streak, the Arizona State Sun Devils couldn’t afford to become one of those Christmas casualties. And thanks to a record-tying performance from three-point range, they weren’t.
Arizona State (7-6) buried 18 three-pointers en route to a 98-62 blowout of Central Arkansas (1-12), grabbing a feel-good win heading into an eight-day break before Pac-12 play starts on December 30. The 18 long balls tied the school record for made three-pointers in one game, a mark that was also tied earlier this month in a win against UNLV.
It wasn’t the sharpest of starts for either team, with the early start time likely contributing to the struggles. The Sun Devils broke out of the haze first, however, going on a 12-2 run to turn a 10-10 tie into a 24-12 advantage.
The team still led by double digits at the under eight media timeout, and it was all Arizona State for the remainder of the first half. A deep three-pointer from point guard Tra Holder - their 12th three of the first 20 minutes - beat the halftime buzzer to push the Sun Devils over the half-century mark and make the score 51-28 as both teams headed for the locker rooms.
Determined to put this one to bed early, Bobby Hurley’s club picked up right where they left off to start the second stanza.
Shannon Evans II, Torian Graham, and Kodi Justice all knocked down three-pointers in the first six minutes of the half, pushing the lead out to 30 points. That advantage would grow to as many as 37 before the day was done, with the final tally being 98-62.
It was Evans who hit the team’s record-tying 18th three-pointer of the afternoon, the shot going down with two minutes and change still to play. Only one more shot from downtown was attempted, but guard Austin Witherill’s shot at breaking the record was missed.
Graham led all scorers with 26 points while also pulling down seven rebounds in 35 minutes of action. Three other Sun Devils - Evans, Holder, and Obinna Oleka - also finished in double figures.
Needless to say, the return to Tempe for former Maroon and Gold assistant Russ Pennell was not a good one. His Bears team is now 1-12 heading into Southland conference play.
Arizona State, on the other hand, is now one game over .500 heading into its Pac-12 slate. The team will return to action a week from Friday night at Stanford, with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m. (MT) on the Pac-12 Networks.