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No. 3 ASU overcomes troubling first half to cruise to win over Longwood

Arizona State forward Mickey Mitchell reverse dunks against Longwood in the second half during an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Dec 19, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated Longwood 95-61. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona State Sun Devils are the No. 3 team in the country, and as the No. 3 team in the country, they have to take care of business against teams like Longwood.

After a shaky win over Vanderbilt last weekend, the Sun Devils came into Tuesday’s game as 38-point favorites. With a matchup also against 5-7 Pacific on Friday, it was a week for ASU to work out the kinks and prepare for the start of Pac-12 play against rival No. 18 Arizona on Dec. 30 in Tucson.

At least in the first half, ASU didn’t take advantage of a far inferior team.

They led by only five points at halftime against one of the worst teams in the country, shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 4-of-15 from 3-point range.

On the flip side, they showed their offensive firepower and how quickly they can catch fire, scoring 60 points in the second half to cruise to a 95-61 victory.

Head coach Bobby Hurley took most of the blame after the game, saying he has to improve on how to approach the opening of games.

“I didn’t create enough of an edge to start this game,” he said. “I have to do better at getting us ready to play.”

Senior guard Tra Holder led the way with 20 points, five rebounds, six assists and six steals. Senior guard Kodi Justice added 18 and freshman guard Remy Martin continued his fine start to the season with another great game off the bench.

Martin had 13 points with seven rebounds and nine assists.

“He’s my type of guy,” Hurley said after the game of the relentless style Martin plays with.

Sophomore forward Mickey Mitchell showed the Sun Devil faithful what he’s about with a career-high 12 points along with five rebounds, two steals, two blocks and an assist in his third game since being eligible after transferring from Ohio State.

Mitchell plays smart, tough basketball combined with a great skill-set that includes good leaping ability and playmaking potential as a passer.

He’s capable of making the highlight pass, block and dunk all in one game.

“His energy was great,” Hurley said of Mitchell’s play.

He started the second half over freshman forward Vitaliy Shibel, who was also sat for Mitchell roughly two minutes into the first half.

Mitchell talked about why he thinks he’s so successful making all the little plays across the floor.

“Natural instinct I think,” Mitchell said. “If I see it on the ground I’m going to go get it. If I see a shot I can block I’m going to go try to do it. It’s just how I play, it’s just in my nature.”

Hurley said he had a hunch Longwood would play more zone and felt Mitchell’s passing helped.

Playing that zone defense, the Lancers (3-9) decided to contain the Sun Devils’ (11-0) penetration as much as possible and force their dynamic guards to beat them from deep.

That seemed foolish given Holder, Justice, Martin and Shannon Evans II entered Tuesday shooting 88-of-209 (42 percent) from 3-point range, but given ASU’s defensive struggles, if they came out cold, Longwood could compete.

That proved to be the case.

“When you’re as open as we were… I want those guys to shoot,” Hurley said. “We will make shots at a much better clip moving forward.”

The Lancers weren’t even playing that well and matching ASU, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half and lacking any standout numbers.

Along with hitting some shots on offense, however, ASU’s defense turned it up another level at the start of the second half. They continued to force turnovers and used those to fuel a 19-2 run to create major separation.

After scoring 90 or more points in the first six games of the season, the Sun Devils hit that mark for the second time in five games, posting 60 of its 91 points in the second half.

No matter the result in the second half, though, the first half provided a valuable learning lesson for what it will take for ASU to be one of the top teams in the country and the conference when they face better competition in the Pac-12.

“We’re fortunate that we played that first half… Taking nothing away from Longwood, but this opponent, if we had done it in some other games it might have been a different result,” Hurley said.

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