LAS VEGAS — Arizona State’s men’s basketball team is becoming a creature of habit.
For the third time in their last five games, the Sun Devils overcame a halftime deficit to secure a win.
After falling behind by 14 with a little more 17 minutes left Wednesday night, Arizona State staged a furious comeback to defeat UNLV 66-56.
Tra Holder led the Sun Devils with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Willie Atwood added 14 points, including eight in the first half.
Arizona State took advantage of UNLV’s multiple scoring droughts in the second half, including a 1 of 15 dry spell to close the game. The Sun Devils used a 19-5 run to tie it at 50-all with eight minutes left in the game, then closed on a 16-6 run.
“We had to go back to the drawing board, it was a rough first half, both offensively and defensively,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “Tra Holder was terrific, I thought, wire-to-wire. He made key plays for us offensively to start the second half and then the guys started gaining confidence from that.”
The Sun Devils (7-3) were playing without co-leading scorer, and former Runnin’ Rebel, Savon Goodman, who didn’t make the trip due to personal reasons. Goodman and Holder entered Wednesday averaging 12.4 points per game.
“We knew we had step up with Savon not here, and we came together as a team to pull this one out,” said Gerry Blakes, who had a double-double for the Sun Devils, with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Blakes and Holder each set new career marks for rebounds.
Arizona State was coming off a disappointing loss at No. 5 Kentucky. In contrast to Wednesday’s victory, in which they hit 13 of 23 (56 percent) in the second half, the Sun Devils made just 11 of 31 from the field (36 percent) in the second half and 37 percent overall in a 72-58 loss to the Wildcats.
Hurley said he knew bringing his troops to Las Vegas off the loss would not be an easy chore, especially against a Runnin’ Rebel team that had been 4-0 at home.
“They’re really talented, UNLV is going to have a great year, they have too many good players not to, so we knew it was going to be a very difficult game with the emotion involved in Saturday’s,” Hurley said.
It took a while for both teams to get anything going in the first half, as UNLV (8-3) could only muster a 14-11 lead midway through. After ASU tied the game at 14, the Rebels went on a 9-2 run in a two-minute span.
UNLV, which has lost two of its last three, stretched its advantage with an 11-5 run, hitting five straight field goals to take a 25-18 lead. The Sun Devils closed the first half missing 8 of 10 shots, while the Rebels used a late 10-2 run to take a 37-25 halftime lead.
Ike Nwamu and Stephen Zimmerman each scored nine points for UNLV.
“This is a very, very difficult loss,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We have to respond to this and we have to regroup. … I don’t think it’s necessarily effort, but I think it is a grit thing, there’s no doubt about it. It’s about toughness.”
Arizona State: Coach Bobby Hurley was welcomed by a loud round of boos from the UNLV home crowd. Hurley was a member of the Duke team that upset the undefeated Runnin’ Rebels in the 1991 Final Four. … Wednesday’s game marked the first time Hurley and UNLV coach Dave Rice were on the same court since that contest in Indianapolis.
UNLV: After using five different starting lineups over their first seven games, the Rebels have used the same starters in their last four games: Morgan, Zimmerman Jr., Nwamu, Seagears and McCaw.
Arizona State hosts Houston Baptist on Saturday
UNLV plays at No. 13 Arizona on Saturday