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ASU Basketball: Guards do heavy lifting in Sun Devils’ 99-78 win over towering UC Irvine

ASU shot 61 percent from beyond the arc.

Nicole Hernandez/

The Arizona State Sun Devils were handed their first true test against San Diego State two games ago. They paraded to a 22-point win. On Sunday, they got their first taste at a zone defense with a towering lineup. Sunday’s result was a 21-point win over UC Irvine, 99-78.

However, it wasn’t without a challenge.

The Sun Devils were outrebounded, 34-28, as the Anteaters rotated five players in and out of at least 6-8, including 2016-17 Big West defensive player of the year 6-10 Justin Galloway. Their height hindered the Sun Devils’ abilities in the post, as their three big men scored just 18 of the ASU’s 99 points.

Tra Holder didn’t let that hurt.

“Every time someone lines up in zone or plays zone against us we kind of take that a little personal,” Holder said. “We know that we’re capable of making big plays, so we saw that and everybody’s eyes lit up.”

Holder finished with a single-game career-high 35 points. In 15 shots, he missed just twice. Overall, the Sun Devils shot 61 percent and hit the same percentage from three-point range.

Romello White was the greatest of contributors from the Sun Devils’ frontcourt that put up just 22 points in the paint. He earned his second career double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but it was the guards who took over as needed.

Shannon Evans scored 22 points, while Kodi Justice followed him with a season-high 18. Holder, Evans and Justice combined for 75 points.

“They do have big physical frontcourt guys if you look at the numbers and go by the eye test,” Hurley said. “So when the guards are playing well, I wanted to get them in more ball screens and I thought getting their bigs away from the basketball was a good thing for us.”

As for the height differential, Hurley isn’t concerned his guards won’t make shots, but is aware of foul trouble. Vitaly Shibel had three and De’Quon Lake had two fouls at the half. Shibel played just 11 minutes and had four fouls. The pair of big men combined for just four points.

“The one thing you’ll say about this game is I can’t wait to get Mickey Mitchell and Kimani Lawrence just in terms of playing a game where if you’re getting some foul difficulty and that’s what we battled with throughout the first half,” Hurley said.

Mitchell, a 6-7 Ohio State transfer, makes his debut on Dec. 10 against Kansas, while Lawrence, a 6-7 freshman, is out until Christmas at most with after undergoing foot surgery.

The Sun Devils look to stay undefeated against Kansas State on Thanksgiving, then either George Washington or Xavier in the Las Vegas Continental Tire Invitational a day later.