(Photo: Eliav Gabay/WCSN)
ASU’s men’s basketball team started their season on a positive note, with an 88-70 blowout win at home over Portland State.
If any ASU fans didn’t know who senior guard Torian Graham was before the game, they were surely familiar by the end. Graham (23 points and 6 rebounds) was absolutely electric all night, scoring from almost every part of the floor and hitting nine of eleven shots.
After ASU started sluggishly and fell behind 8-2, a smooth layup and three pointer by Graham on subsequent plays gave the Sun Devils a one-point lead. ASU never trailed again for the remainder of the game, using Graham’s hot shooting and a barrage of threes to control the rest of the contest.
The Sun Devils chucked up 28 three point attempts on the night and connected on 32 percent of them. Five of those made threes came from Graham, but ASU’s commitment to shooting from behind the arc was evident. This has been a consistent trend under head coach Bobby Hurley, as the Sun Devils averaged almost 24 three point attempts last season.
It also may have been a byproduct of ASU playing a small-ball lineup for the majority of the game. Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II, Kodi Justice, Graham, and Obinna Oleka were the primary five on the floor, with all of them playing over 28 minutes. ASU has a lack of size and depth in the frontcourt, and they have combated that deficiency so far this year with a group of quick, athletic guards and wing players who rebounded the ball surprisingly well Friday.
Despite their lack of size, the Sun Devils were also able to out-rebound Portland State 47 to 33, with 12 of those rebounds coming on the offensive end. This is a vast improvement over a year ago when ASU outrebounded their opponents by an average margin of less then one rebound per game.
The ability of Evans (4 rebounds), Justice (4 rebounds) and Graham (6 rebounds) to successfully rebound the ball from the backcourt was a huge bonus for the Sun Devils. However, it was Oleka who dominated the boards, pulling down a game-high 13 rebounds. He also managed to grab five offensive rebounds, which lead to ample second-chance scoring opportunities for ASU.
Both Graham and Evans have had a long break from collegiate basketball, as Graham hadn’t played a game since March 2014, but neither player showed much signs of rust. They were able to contribute significantly on both ends of the floor and Evans’ ability as one of the team’s veteran leaders was evident throughout the game.
Evans, Holder, and Justice have all demonstrated their ability to lead the team with both their words and by example. This will surely be key for the Sun Devils this season as they look to change the the culture of the team going forward.
ASU now faces a quick turnaround as they face Cal Poly at 7 p.m. Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena.