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ASU Men’s Basketball: Sun Devil guards propel team in second win

(Photo: Eliav Gabay/WCSN)

The Arizona State Sun Devils shook off a poor first half performance to secure a 94-74 win over Cal Poly Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena.

ASU started off slowly, as it did in its season opener, and didn’t grab their first lead until five minutes into the half after a smooth Torian Graham jumper put them up 8-7. Graham was relatively quiet in the first, only scoring six points on two of three shooting through 20 minutes.

The Sun Devils struggled mightily in the first half, going 10 of 25 from the field. They had trouble hitting the three ball at the same rate they did in their season opener against Portland State, hitting just seven threes in the game.

Cal Poly found a lot of success scoring the ball with two of their bigger wing players, redshirt senior guard Kyle Toth (21 points) and junior forward Josh Martin (17 points). With six minutes left in the first half, Toth hit a mid-range jumper to pull the Mustangs within five at 25-30.

He nailed two threes on his teams next two possessions and then dished the ball to junior guard Victor Joseph who scored another three to tie the game at 34. Martin rolled in a layup and threw home a dunk on back-to-back possessions to give the Mustangs a 38-36 lead with two minutes to go in the first.

The Mustangs were very successful as a team shooting behind the arc, hitting 11 three pointers on 29 attempts.

Opportunities from the charity stripe allowed the Sun Devils to regain the lead heading into the half. Senior forward Obinna Oleka and junior guard Tra Holder combined for three straight made free throws to give ASU a 39-38 lead at the break.

Head Coach Bobby Hurley said that the Sun Devils ability to get to the line was vital to their offensive attack during the game.

“They were fouling us a lot because their five man couldn’t guard Shannon {Evans} or Tra [Holder],” Hurley said. “We were getting to the free throw line quite a bit and our guys were effectively able to go off the dribble.”

After Cal Poly scored five straight points to open the second half, Torian Graham started to pour it on. Graham (18 points and seven rebounds) hit back-to-back jumpers to pull ASU within three at 43-46. He then hammered home a tomahawk dunk that brought the crowd to its feet and sparked a 20-8 run by the Sun Devils.

ASU never gave up the lead from there and Hurley said Graham was once again a key contributor.

“Torian was every bit as good as he was in the first game,” Hurley said. “He provides the spark on offense and he’s a pure scorer, not only as a shooter but he also gets to the rim. His step-back is so nice…because of his length and how high he gets off the floor its hard to defend him.”

Holder, Oleka, and senior guard Shannon Evans II were also huge parts of that run, finding their way into the paint and consistently sinking layups or drawing fouls. All three players scored 17 plus points and attempted nine or more free throws, with Evans going a perfect 12 of 12 from the line

Holder lead the team in scoring with 24 points on 7 of 12 shooting, while Oleka came up big on the glass, pulling down 13 rebounds.

Top freshman recruit Sam Cunliffe waited a while to score his five points on the night, as he hit a three and a subsequent layup with under a minute left to add to ASU’s 94-74 victory.

“It’s great that we’re having the success we’re having,” Hurley said. “But again, I don’t think we aren’t coming close yet to our potential as guys continue to play better.

The Sun Devils will hope to transition their success in the second half into their next game on Thursday where they will take on Northern Iowa in the first game of the Tire Pros Invitational in Orlando, Florida. Tip off is at 2:30 p.m.

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