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Big 1st half run carries ASU men’s basketball over Houston Baptist

Arizona State forward Marcus Bagley (23) drives against Houston Baptist guard Pedro Castro during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

With about five minutes left in the first half of the Arizona State game against Houston Baptist, senior guard Remy Martin pulled up from deep in an attempt to draw a foul. He got the contact. He hit the shot. It was a four-point play, and it was symbolic of how that half went for ASU.

The Sun Devils went on a 31-3 run over a span of 6:09 to build a lead that would stand. ASU took down the Huskies 100-77.

In that 31-point run, ASU went 11-for-15 and had four offensive rebounds to allow the team to score on every possession. The Sun Devils made five 3-pointers, two from sophomore guard Jaelen House and two from freshman forward Marcus Bagley, and had nine assists as a team.

House went into the half with 11 points. In that span, he made all three 3-pointers he attempted, drained a pair of free throws and swiped two steals for a ridiculous plus-30 over 10 minutes of play.

After not playing against Villanova, House played a key role in taking the lead against Houston Baptist.

“He gives us a spark off the bench, a spark defensively, a spark offensively,” said senior forward Kimani Lawrence. “If we come out flat, we can definitely depend on him to come in the game and turn us around.”

Bagley had 13 points in the half, the final three of which came as time expired to end the first half, and finished with a team-high 21 points to break 20 for the first time in his collegiate career. He had four 3-pointers, all in the first half, to contribute to ASU’s 12 total.

Playing against a non-Power 5 team is a safe way to recover after a tough loss to Villanova.

Even without Alonzo Verge Jr. on the court, 10 Sun Devils scored in the first half. They shot 63.9% from the field and 62.5% from 3 while attempting 15 free throws during that time. They forced 14 turnovers, which led to 22 points.

The Sun Devils had 17 assists in the half – four from Martin, who also contributed 11 points, and three apiece from House and Holland Woods. Against Villanova, ASU played with tunnel vision, trying to rely on one-on-one and iso play and only picking up eight assists. There were no such issues against Houston Baptist.

Despite the woes against Villanova and success Sunday, head coach Bobby Hurley said ball movement wasn’t an area of focus in practice and discussion.

“We have guys that can go off the dribble, that can create, that are going to pass. We don’t have selfish guys, so I wasn’t surprised that we had that many assists,” he said. “I’m not going to judge our performance based on statistics and assist totals.”

He said defense was the more pressing issue coming off the Mohegan Sun tournament, and ASU played much improved on that end.

The Huskies shot 39.3% from the field overall and, in the first half, only got to the free throw line four times.

ASU didn’t play as well in the second half, in part because the usual stalwarts played less than normal. Martin only had seven minutes, Bagley had eight and Christopher nine.

As a result, Houston Baptist cut down the deficit, which led to some minor regrets from Hurley.

“I’m kicking myself a little bit to be honest. I think I jumped the gun about three minutes too soon on getting our core rotation guys out of the game,” he said. “The majority of the game we were dominant, and then we were awful the last 12 minutes.”

Yet ASU maintained its out-of-reach lead, which the team had built up to as much as 45 points. Lawrence scored 13 off the bench in his season debut after missing the first two games of the season while continuing to rehab from his offseason knee surgery.

Christopher finished with 17 points, nine in the second half, and shot 8-for-11 from the field.

Five Sun Devils finished with double-digit points. Jalen Graham helped anchor the strong defense, picking up three blocks, while House dominated the perimeter, as he grabbed four steals and did not pick up his first foul until there were only about five minutes left in the game.

“I think the full-court pressure really turned things around for us in the first half,” Lawrence said. “We have a lot of guards, a lot of quick guys … we’ll be able to use that to our advantage.”

Unlike the win over Rhode Island, in which ASU took a large lead and then allowed the Rams to catch up, the Sun Devils allowed no Huskies run on Sunday. It was a rare anticlimactic win for ASU, and it was one the team needed coming off the loss to Villanova.

NOTES

– Hurley did not delve into specifics about Verge’s absence, but said that “it’s not a disciplinary issue and he’s not hurt.”


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