Arizona State overcomes a slow start against Vanderbilt to stay unbeaten
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley made it known that the national attention his team was receiving would not affect its play.
“These guys are still very hungry, very motivated and that’s every indication I’m getting from what I see being around them in practice,” he said Wednesday.
While it took some time to see that hunger, the Sun Devils once again looked impressive in their 76-64 win over Vanderbilt on Sunday.
“The way we started and what we fought through, I haven’t seen us play that type of offense,” Hurley said after the game. “Credit to Vanderbilt. I think we relied on our defense especially the last eight minutes of the half.”
Vanderbilt came out unfazed by ASU’s No. 5 ranking and raucous home crowd, as it went on a 13-0 run in the first five minutes. The Sun Devils meanwhile struggled on offense early, shooting just 2-of-12 in the first seven minutes.
But, they made up for it on defense, forcing three shot-clock violations and 10 turnovers in the first half.
Eventually, the offense came alive.
The deficit was erased as the Sun Devils took a 30-29 lead into halftime after senior guard Tra Holder connected from three-point range as time expired.
“That is when we are our best, when we are stopping people and getting out,” Holder said of his teams transition from defense to offense. “That is when we got our lead in the second half, when we got a lot of big defensive stops.”
The second half was all Sun Devils, as the momentum from late in the first half carried over.
A 16-2 run in the first five minutes quickly put Arizona State in control for the remainder of the contest.
Holder finished with 25 points to lead all Arizona State scorers, followed by guard Shannon Evans’ 15 points.
Making just his second appearance in an Arizona State uniform after sitting out due to the NCAA transfer rules, sophomore forward Mickey Mitchel played a big part in the Sun Devils’ turnaround in the first half.
Mitchel was dominant in the paint, finishing with 13 rebounds and eight points, the first of which came from a violent dunk that caused an eruption from fans.
Freshman forward Romello White was also a major contributor down low, accounting for 12 points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
Arizona State out-rebounded Vanderbilt, 47-37, which played a major role in not only the comeback in the first half but the ability to maintain the lead in the second.
Mitchell’s 13 rebounds led the way; 10 came in the first half.
“I just try to go and crash (the boards) anytime I can really,” Mitchell said after the game. “Unless I am in big time foul trouble, that is just how I play.”
Thirty-two of Arizona State’s total rebounds came on defense.
Similarly to its previous matchup, at home against San Francisco, turnovers plagued Arizona State.
Just eight minutes into the contest Sunday and the Sun Devils had already committed six turnovers as a team. Vanderbilt’s defense caught them off guard, forcing inaccurate passes that led to steals or the ball bouncing out of bounds.
Despite the win, the Sun Devils finished with 17 turnovers to Vanderbilt’s 15.
HE SAID IT
“Obviously winning is great but we have a great team culture. We genuinely like each other and we just want to win at the end of the day. That’s what makes a great team is when everyone comes together as one and vouch for each other and just play as hard as we can.”
— Tra Holder on this Arizona State team
STAT OF THE GAME
2-11: The Sun Devils made just two three-pointers on 11 attempts in the first half. The first shot from behind the arc came from Evans with just 3:44 remaining until halftime. The second three-pointer in the first half for came from Holder as time expired.
As a team, the Sun Devils finished 5-of-23 from three-point range.
After Sunday’s win, the No. 5 Sun Devils are 10-0 for the first time in program history. A climb in the rankings should come after No. 3 Wichita State fell to Oklahoma.
Arizona State will take the court again on Tuesday, Dec. 19 when it welcomes the Longwood Lancers (3-9) to Wells Fargo Arena.