Relying on the dominance of their post players, the Arizona State Sun Devils cruised to a 3-0 start to their season.
Sunday, the script flipped, but the results stayed the same in a 99-78 win over the UC Irvine Anteaters at Wells Fargo Arena. This marks ASU’s fourth consecutive game scoring 90 or more points, the longest such streak since February and March 1975.
The Anteater offense is predicated on utilizing their plethora of bigs to slow the game down and dominate the boards. The Sun Devils came out of the gates firing, using an early 12-0 run to generate separation and keep UC Irvine off-balance and out of its game.
“When we rebound and then we can push and score early, we have that ability,” Hurley said. “We have guys that can get lost in transition and make a 3. We pushed it out to 20 really fast because we got some stops and our defense played better in that stretch.”
Leading the charge was senior guard Tra Holder, who paced the Sun Devils with 19 points in the first half en route to a new career high of 35 points, moving him into a tie for 17th on the program’s all-time scoring list with Al Nealey.
“It was one of the better performances that I’ve seen from I player that I’ve coached in my young career,” Hurley said.
Holder was on a tear from the start, making seven of eight shot attempts in the first half, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that he finished with a pose to send the teams into the locker room with a 56-38 lead and momentum.
Holder’s game Sunday wasn’t an inevitability, however.
Entering the game, Holder wasn’t playing his best, by his own admission. Despite averaging over 18 points, he was shooting just 38.1 percent from the field, the lowest among all ASU guards.
“I haven’t really shot the ball the way I wanted to the first three games,” Holder said. “I told myself to stay with my same routine and just live with the results. If it doesn’t go in, you just know that you gave it your best shot.”
Against the Anteaters, everything fell into place, as Holder sank 13 of 15 shots, making 11 consecutive at one point.
Not to be outdone, fellow senior guards Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice scored 22 and 18 points respectively, marking the second game in a row in which all three starting guards reached double-digits.
Against a unit as large as UC Irvine, who played five players at 6-8 or taller — including 2016-17 Big West Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Galloway — Hurley saw the opportunity to keep the defense off-balance and get his guards moving around the perimeter.
“When the guards are playing that well, I wanted to get them in more ball screens,” Hurley said. “I thought getting their bigs away from the basket was a good thing for us.”
Next up for Holder and the Sun Devils is a Thanksgiving Day matchup with Kansas State at the Continental Tires Invitational in Las Vegas.
“I try to stay not too high, not too low,” Holder said. “It could be good now and then the next game it could be terrible. I had a good game, but it’s time to move on and keep doing what I do and hopefully we get some wins in Vegas.”