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ASU Men’s Basketball: Houston Baptist preview

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

Coming off an impressive road win over UNLV on Wednesday night, the Arizona State Sun Devils look to continue their nonconference success against the Houston Baptist Huskies.

The Sun Devils showed a lot of heart against UNLV, overcoming a 14-point second half deficit to pull out a 66-56 win over the Runnin’ Rebels. After being down by 12 points at half, ASU outscored UNLV 41-19 in the second half. ASU averages 40.4 points per game in the second half, compared to 31.9 points per game in the first half.

Sophomore guard Tra Holder led the show for the Sun Devils against UNLV, finishing with a game-high 19 points and adding nine rebounds. He led the offense by making decisive plays on ball screens and creating open opportunities for other players. This led to ASU shooting 57 percent in the second half en route to its win.

Houston Baptist is a tough team to play, paced by senior guard Anthony Odunsi. Odunsi leads Houston Baptist in both scoring (13.8 points per game) and assists (3.6 points per game).

The Sun Devils may be without their leading scorer and rebounder junior forward Savon Goodman after he missed the game against UNLV due to personal reasons. Without Goodman, ASU will have to pick up the slack in the rebounding aspect of the game.

Keys to the Game

Board Beasts

One area that the Sun Devils have excelled in is their work on the glass. ASU is outrebounding their opponents by 7.7 rebounds per game and has won the rebounding margin in each of its seven victories this year. The possibility of losing Goodman will mean that the Sun Devils need to rebound as a unit to control the boards.

ASU is second in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounds per game with 14.5. The offensive glass is important because it oftentimes turns into second-chance points for the Sun Devils. Because ASU is not a good three-point shooting team, it relies on extra possessions to put up points. Without beating Houston Baptist in offensive rebounds, ASU may find it hard to generate these extra points and scoring opportunities.

A different player has stepped up to take the rebounding burden in most games for ASU. Against UNLV, senior guard Gerry Blakes was the only player on the floor to manage a double-double. He scored 13 and grabbed 11 rebounds in the process. Senior forward Eric Jacobsen has had multiple 10 rebound games this season as well, against Creighton and Kennesaw State. Both of these players will need to step up in the event Goodman does not play.

Perimeter Prowess

Long-range shooting has been a struggle for ASU this season. Despite a few games where they got hot, the Sun Devils are not generally an exceptional shooting team. ASU is dead last in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting percentage at 29 percent.

Part of the reason the Sun Devils had such a hard time scoring in the first half against UNLV was their perimeter shooting. They shot 1-for-13 en route to a 25-point first half and a 12-point halftime deficit.

To beat the Huskies, ASU will need to make at least some of their shots. Senior forward Willie Atwood shoots a respectable 40 percent from beyond the arc and sophomore guard Kodi Justice is just behind him, shooting 36 percent from three on the season. These two will be the ones to look for when it comes time for the Sun Devils to make shots.

Foul Trouble

One thing that Houston Baptists’ Odunsi does well is get to the line. Against UC Riverside, Odunsi scored 14 of his 18 points from the free-throw line. He went 2-of-4 from the field but 14-for-17 from the charity stripe. He knows how to draw contact and make the free shots count when he gets to the line.

This could be an issue for ASU coupled with its propensity to get in foul trouble. One of the weaknesses for the Sun Devils is their lack of size. The frontcourt players like Goodman and Atwood have to play bigger than their size. Only one player in the current rotation (Jacobsen) is taller than 6-foot-7, and this can lead to a lot of fouls under the basket for ASU.

In order to keep the game under control, ASU will need to keep Odunsi and the rest of the Huskies away from the foul line. To do this, the Sun Devils will need to make sure to stay out of foul trouble.

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