TEMPE, Ariz. — Led by junior guard Katie Hempen, the third-seeded Arizona State Sun Devils blistered the nets in a 74-55 first-round NCAA Tournament win over the Ohio Bobcats at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday.
Hempen set a new career-high with 23 points, hitting 6-of-11 shots, including 5-of-9 from 3-point range. The Sun Devils (28-5) shot 55.6 percent in the contest.
ASU started slowly and trailed by two points when Ohio’s Quiera Lampkins hit a layup with 15:52 remaining in the first half. But the Sun Devils reeled off nine straight points from four different players in a span of 2 1/2 minutes to build a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Arizona State lived at the free throw line in the first half, hitting 12-of-17 from the stripe to build a 41-25 halftime advantage.
Things got interesting for a brief moment in the second half. Senior guard Promise Amukamara picked up her fourth foul with 18:25 remaining the game and left the contest. Ohio’s Kiyanna Black hit two free throws and Lexie Baldwin added a layup 34 seconds later to pull the Bobcats (27-5) within 46-34.
But ASU responded again, this time with a 20-3 run that included three layups from sophomore Sophie Brunner, who finished with 14 points and a team-high six rebounds.
Hempen was outstanding, showing no ill effects from a two-week layoff from action. The Sun Devils last played March 7, when they were ousted by Stanford in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament in Seattle.
The honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection acted as a steadying force the entire afternoon for Arizona State. She eclipsed the 20-point mark for the the third time on the season and first since she went for 22 in a home loss to Oregon State on Jan. 25.
“You saw her mid-range game. You saw her draw fouls and get to the rim. It’s exciting to see her game develop,” ASU head coach Charli Turner Thorne said when asked where Hempen ranks among the great shooters during her coaching tenure.
“She’s not just a 3-point shooter. So I think that makes it more impressive what she’s doing for us. I think she has a chance to be our all-time best, and I know she has the work ethic to do it.”
ASU’s defense also held Ohio to under 60 points for just fourth time this season. The Bobcats were 2-1 in those games before Saturday.
The Sun Devils may have taken their foot off the gas a little bit too soon in this one. After building a 29-point lead, Ohio embarked on a 13-0 run over the next six minutes to creep to within 16 points. Turner Thorne responded by putting Hempen and Brunner back in the contest.
“They were pissed, excuse my expression, but they were,” Turner Thorne said. “These guys are the reason that we are here. They got us here and they got very frustrated that we weren’t scoring and letting the other team score, and they wanted to go back in.”
• This was the 13th all-time NCAA Tournament win for Arizona State. Twelve of those wins have come under Turner Thorne since she took over the program in 1996.
• Ohio is now 0-3 all-time in the tournament. It was the Bobcats’ first appearance since 1995, when they were ousted in the first round by Washington.
• ASU’s 19-point win is tied for its third-largest margin of victory in NCAA Tournament play. The Devils’ biggest win came in 2005 when they blasted 12th-seeded Eastern Kentucky 87-65 in the first round.
• Junior forward Eliza Normen had nine blocked shots all season long, but she had five Saturday.
SHE SAID IT
“I’m really proud of our team. It’s been two weeks since we played a game. We were rusty and chomping at the bit at the same time. We got some shots up, shot the ball like we can shoot the ball. And I thought our defense — we hadn’t really played anybody like them with five out. I thought Sophie was just guarding 3-point shooters and then sprinting to help — we had to work really hard and I thought we did. I thought we had a great complete effort from our entire team.” -Turner Thorne.
ASU advances to the round of 32 to take on 11th-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock, which upset Texas A&M 69-60 earlier Saturday.
Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday night.