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ASU Men’s Basketball: Sun Devils coast to win their season opener over Chicago State

(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)

The Arizona State Sun Devils came away with a domineering 86-50 victory Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena against the Chicago State Cougars. Both teams traded lackluster baskets for the first ten minutes of play, before settling into a groove catalyzed by a powerful performance from senior forward Shaquielle McKissic.

“I had butterflies today,” ASU head coach Herb Sendek said.  “If you’re a competitor, I don’t know how you avoid that. I told the guys three things before the game: One, rely on preparation, two, rely on connectivity and three, rely on great effort. I thought for the most part they really achieved that tonight.”

With nine minutes left in the first half and the score at 17-15, Shaquielle McKissic sank two fallaway threes and strategically maneuvered through a crowded lane to dunk in front of an energized student section, stretching to a 25-15 Sun Devil lead with seven minutes left in the half.

“I try my best to memorize our plays, memorize their plays, I know I have to have that edge and I felt like it helped me tremendously tonight,” McKissic said.

Behind some strong Gerry Blakes rebounding, the Sun Devils went on a 22-13 run over the last 10 minutes to go into the locker room with a comfortable 40-28 lead.

“The coach was stressing winning every four-minute segment, which helped us get the lead and get stops,” Blakes said.

The Sun Devils maintained that hefty lead throughout the second half, creating a 30 point deficit after a couple of hook shots by McKissic and Kodi Justice and the fact that Chicago State’s leading first-half scorer, Clarke Rosenberg, went stone cold, going 1-for-9 from the field over a 15-minute period.

“Once we got it going it was kind of like an avalanche,” McKissic said. “Our offense is like a car, if we get all the pieces, it’s going to drive.”

ASU ended the game with a suffocating 36-point lead that may have pumped a little more hope into the hearts of Sun Devils fans who are looking at the first win of a mystery season.

“Last year, the ball was in Jahii’s hands a disproportionate amount of time,” Sendek said. “This year, the ball is really moving and we have a number of guys who can put the ball on the floor. I think it’s a fun way to play. We ran a grand total of one play. We might have run it twice, maybe three times, so the guys were really playing basketball tonight.”

Player of the game: Shaquielle McKissic

Shaquielle McKissic went a staggering seven for nine from the field, amounting to a career-high 20 points. McKissic, as predicted by many ASU fans, was a maniacal presence on the floor tonight, flying high on offense and crouching low on defense to cause needed-pressure around the perimeter. McKissic racked up three boards.

Biggest Concern: Free Throw Shooting

ASU did a good job drawing the foul and getting to the line, but greatly struggled to take advantage of the charity. The Sun Devils free throw percentage abounded to an abysmal 55.9 percent.

Stat of the game: 22 of ASU’s 40 first-half points came from outside the paint

ASU did well to stretch the floor, driving and kicking and making extra passes to find an open teammate. Sendek had emphasized an effort to figure out what a good shot and a better shot was for his team, and the Sun Devils demonstrated that tonight, assisting on 17 of ASU’s 30 made field goals.

What’s next?

The Sun Devils will turn their attention to the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, who will travel to Tempe Monday night at 7 p.m. The Pac-12 Network will be broadcasting the game live.

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