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Hurley’s Sun Devils notch another quality non-conference win

Arizona State guard Tra Holder drives toward the basket against UNLV forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr., right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Arizona State Sun Devils haven’t spent too much time at home recently.

Since the week of Thanksgiving, ASU has played seven basketball games. Five of them have been away from the cozy comforts of Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

Their latest travels took them to Las Vegas, to take on a UNLV team that came into the game 8-2 overall and undefeated (5-0) in games played in Sin City this year. That includes a convincing win over Oregon at MGM Grand Garden Arena.

So not only were the Sun Devils facing another quality opponent, they were doing so without their leading scorer, Savon Goodman. The former UNLV player sat out (and could miss more time) due to personal reasons.

In the first half, it appeared Goodman’s absence would be too much for the young and shorthanded Sun Devils to overcome. ASU shot under 30 percent in the first half and trailed by as many as 14 points in the second.

No big deal.

Arizona State outscored UNLV 35-11 over the last 16:20 of the game to win going away, 66-56, and push their record to 7-3. Guards Tra Holder and Gerry Blakes combined for 32 points and 20 rebounds for ASU, who shot a blistering 56.5 percent in the second half.

In addition to beating the Rebels, the Devils have racked up wins over N.C. State, Creighton and Texas A&M.

First-year head coach Bobby Hurley was viewed as a sexy, yet risky hire. His name is royalty in college hoops circles. He helped guide Duke to back-to-back national championships in the early 90s and he’s still the NCAA’s all-time assists leader.

But he was only a head coach for two seasons at Buffalo before athletic director Ray Anderson and Arizona State came calling last spring about their head coaching position.

With only nine scholarship players, success wasn’t supposed to come this quickly — especially in a hostile road environment without one of your best players.

“We don’t back down,” Hurley told CBS Sports Network following the game. “These guys are tough guys.”

They have been so far.

The Sun Devils have three home non-conference games (Houston Baptist, Stephen F. Austin and CSU Bakersfield) remaining on the schedule before they tip-off conference play against Arizona Jan. 3 in Tempe. They very easily could be 10-3 heading into a tough Pac-12 schedule.

But unlike years past, should ASU get into the 18-20 win range by season’s end, their NCAA Tournament hopes would actually be bolstered by their list of non-conference wins.

When was the last time that was the case?

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