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Arizona State flashes long-term potential, blows out SDSU

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — You can see the potential there in year three of Bobby Hurley’s tenure at Arizona State.

With three senior guards, an exciting freshman guard who plays with a relentless aggression and attitude and long athletes on the interior, the Sun Devils can play fast and look good doing it.

The problem, as it has been for Hurley’s teams in Tempe, is consistency.

While it wasn’t for a full 40 minutes, the Sun Devils had two terrific stretches of play and rode those to a big 90-68 win over San Diego State at home Tuesday.

Senior guard Tra Holder has 27 points, eight rebounds and six assists while redshirt freshman big Romello White had 16 points and 15 rebounds in his Sun Devils debut. White missed all of last season after being ruled academically ineligible and missed the team’s season opener against Idaho State due to a violation of team rules.

“Amazing,” White said after the game of how it felt to finally play. “It felt great.”

De’Quon Lake, in particular, has been the standout through two games. In the opener, the junior transfer big man from Iowa Western had 24 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the opener. And in limited minutes because of foul trouble Tuesday night, he had 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. He’s shooting 15-of-17 from the field this season.

“He just came right in right where he left off against better competition and showed against really good big athletes that what he was doing the other night can carry over,” Hurley said of Lake.

“He’s finding the recipe of success and he’s just really a presence down there.”

ASU is at its best when they are running with three of those guards and the explosive bigs together: Holder, Shannon Evans II and Kodi Justice serve as the senior guards, true freshman Remy Martin pushes the pace even more and the duo of White and Lake occupies the inside.

The beauty of these players at the same positions is they practice against each other, something they spoke of after the game as a source of improvement.

“We just have so many options any given night,” Holder said.

The guards lack size and strength as perimeter defenders, but they work hard and force ball-handlers into the heart of the defense where White and Lake lie in waiting to swat shot attempts away.

“Now we have some guys who can get off their feet and get after the ball on the rebounds and that helps free (the guards) up to scramble more on defense,” Hurley said of the difference with the bigs defensively.

From there, ASU can run, the area in which the guards shine. Evans and Holder have their contrasting aspects as players, but both excel when pushing the ball with multiple options in front of them. If they miss, White and Lake are constantly crashing the offensive glass while also providing a scoring option in the post, on dump-offs and rim runs.

“When we secure the ball, we’re pushing it and we’re coming right at you,” Hurley said.

Arizona State needs to score in the half-court to succeed, though, and that’s the concern for the backcourt. Justice, in fact, who is more of a shooter than anything, might be their most creative player with his intuitiveness around the court to make any play at any time.

That combination adds up to scoring ruts, and the Sun Devils had a major one when Lake picked up his second foul with 7:57 in the first half. The Aztecs went on a 23-8 run to halftime, putting Hurley’s squad down six and having to work from behind instead of being in firm control at home.

“We over-dribbled some and stopped defending the way we had to get the lead that we got early,” Hurley said, calling it a great learning experience to come back out in the second half.

His team did just that.

ASU was able to ride that wave of budding talent to a huge run to open the second half, a 37-12 run to be exact, leading by as many as 19. They would stretch that out even further, dominating the second half 56-28.

The beauty of the guards is with consistent ball movement, there is always a playmaker winding up with the ball on the perimeter. That can lead to possessions like this one, where the ball goes from Evans to Martin to Holder, who is the one to attack the basket and find Lake.

If the group can avoid stagnant play like they did to close the first half, they can grow through consistency and start to make some noise in the Pac-12. Add in the fact that sophomore transfer Mickey Mitchell and injured freshman Kimani Lawrence should be back for conference play and the Sun Devils could have their best run under Hurley to date.

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