The more you win, the more is on the line.
The Arizona State Sun Devils’ 76-64 victory over Vanderbilt proved as a freaky test. Down early, big shots, lots of noise — ASU rose to the occasion under a national microscope
Wells Fargo Arena spent nearly a decade without seeing the Sun Devils ranked. It hadn’t seen the team in the top-5 since 1981. All 10,797 fans awaited the Sun Devils’ first 10-0 start in program history.
With expectations higher than the ceiling, the Sun Devils couldn’t have looked much worse.
ASU was in a hole, trailing 13-0, the Sun Devils had shot 0-for-10 from the field and 2-for-15 when trailing 15-4. Even worse, the Sun Devils began the game 0-for-9 from three-point range.
“Solid win to play in the mud and we played in the mud to get this win,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “The crowd really willed us through not playing our very best.”
Vanderbilt brought the pressure, putting in a smaller lineup, filled with guards to combat the Sun Devils’ trio of seniors, and it worked.
ASU scored its first points at 14:49 and didn’t reach double digits until 7:59 in the first half.
“I called the timeout down 13-0 because I had to, not because I wanted to. I just figured we’d get it going,” Hurley said. “You can see the guys were frustrated because he had never played on offense like that”
Down 24-14, that’s when “the burst” happened.
ASU went on a 9-0 run to make it 24-21. A Tra Holder buzzer-beater three-pointer, gave ASU led 30-29 lead at the half. Then, the floodgates opened.
The Sun Devils compiled a 24-5 run in less than six minutes to start the first half, taking a commanding 54-34 lead.
“We had the burst and that’s great,” Hurley said. “We took the game from a one-two possession game and then all of a sudden it’s mid doubles. It happens fast when these guys get stops.”
Stops are what Hurley most wanted.
The Sun Devils and Commodores both shot below 40 percent in a poor shooting first half. ASU turned it around, shooting 51 percent the next 20 minutes; however, Vanderbilt didn’t, making just 12 of 36 shots to end the game on a 34 percent shooting day overall.
Holder led the Sun Devils, scoring 25 points. Shannon Evans added 15 and five rebounds. Romello White scored 12, gathered nine rebounds, but fouled out.
Hurley’s most valuable player; however, was Mickey Mitchell.
The Ohio State transfer had no points and no rebounds in his six-minute debut against Kansas. On Sunday, he scored eight and rebounded 13 in 20 minutes. Along with his two steals, the 6-7, 225-pound forward was a presence on defense.
His 10 rebounds in the first half helped ASU come back. His four fouls bring out the most important element of his game: physicality.
“I just go to crash every time I can early. I picked up foul trouble, but that’s just how I play,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell sat the 2016-17 season. He made his debut against Kansas on Dec. 2. Hurley doesn’t mind having him back. Holder doesn’t either.
“He’s a great player, as you saw today, crashing the boards like crazy.” Holder said. “He has a lot of mobility as well. When he gets more comfortable with our system and playing more minutes, you’re going to see a lot of versatility.
Following the Sun Devils’ 24-5 run, Vanderbilt fought back from down 20 to get within 12, but ASU never let the Commodores back in it.
“Coach told us last year teams didn’t show mercy on us when we were losing, so there’s no reason for us not to do the same. That’s just how we play. There’s no disrespect,’”
After playing two games in eight days, the Sun Devils play three in the next five.
Before heading to No. 23 Arizona on Dec. 30, ASU plays home contests against Longwood on Tuesday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. and Pacific on Friday, Dec. 23 at 1 p.m.