TEMPE, Ariz. — That wasn’t the way it was supposed to go.
New Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley was a splashy hire for athletic director Ray Anderson. Considering his place in college basketball history as a two-time national champion at Duke and his status as an up-and-coming coach in the college ranks, a season-opener at home against Sacramento State was supposed to be a formality, right?
Well, the Hornets had different plans.
Fueled by guards Cody Demps and Marcus Graves, Sac State erased an eight-point deficit over the last six minutes of the game, stunning Arizona State 66-63 in front of 5,275 fans at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Hornets’ guard combo combined for 42 points on 16-of-30 shooting and scored Sacramento State’s final 15 points.
“It was not the way I wanted to start things here, for sure,” Hurley said. “It was an embarrassing loss for us. I just think we have to execute better, obviously, we’ve got to play better.”
The Sun Devils started out well. Savon Goodman’s second layup of the game with 13:09 remaining in the first half gave ASU an early 15-6 lead. Sacramento State answered with an 8-2 run to cut ASU’s lead to two at 19-15.
Then the Sun Devils went cold. Gerry Blakes made a runner with 8:48 left in the half — the last field goal ASU would make for the next 8:22. Blakes hit another bucket with :26 left, but the Sun Devils still trailed 29-23 at the break.
“I thought we were nervous — I thought we played nervous in the first half for some reason,” Hurley said. “Just having issues with simple things like catching the ball and it became infectious. It carried over to how we shot the ball over the course of the game.”
The Devils did come out and play better in the second half, led by forward Willie Atwood. The senior from Memphis scored nine of his 11 points in an 8:23 stretch where ASU outscored Sacramento State 22-9 to build a 48-38 lead.
But the Graves-Demps duo led another Sac State spurt — this one a 7-0 run — to pull the Hornets back to within three points.
Arizona State senior post Eric Jacobsen converted a layup to put the Sun Devils up 60-59 with 1:41 left. Just 13 seconds later, Demps hit a dagger three-pointer to put the Hornets up for good. ASU had a possession trailing by three with :24 left, but Blakes’ potential game-tying attempt missed and Graves rebounded and dribbled out the clock for the win.
Hurley admitted after the game, the last play was ideally drawn up for Andre Spight, but it didn’t work out.
“We didn’t get the best shot that I would have liked to have gotten,” he said.
The Good: Hurley singled out the play of Atwood, who had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Point guard Tra Holder was solid as well, with 17 points and five assists while only committing one turnover.
The Bad: The shooting. ASU hit just 2-of-17 from three-point range and missed 12 free throws on the night.
Sacramento State also owned the glass for much of the game, outrebounding the Devils 41-34.
• Hurley’s father Bob Sr., a legendary high school coach in New Jersey, was in attendance and sat behind the ASU bench. The first-year head coach joked earlier in the week that he was 0-2 in games his dad attended.
He Said It: “We’re all still learning, but there’s no excuse to have a game like this. We’ve just got to get back and work hard.” — Senior center Eric Jacobsen
What’s Next: The Sun Devils will host Belmont on Monday night at Wells Fargo Arena. The Bruins of head coach Rick Byrd are coming off a 22-win season in which they played in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Belmont lost to second-seeded Virginia in the second round of the East Regional.
Monday’s tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. and can be heard on KTAR News on 92.3 FM starting with pregame coverage at 7:30.