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ASU Men’s Basketball: Sun Devils flex their muscle in season opener

(Photo: Eliav Gabay/WCSN)

The Arizona State Sun Devil offense came out in full force for their season opener against Portland State University on Friday, and it proved to be more than enough as the Sun Devils defeated the Vikings 88-70.

Both teams got off to a rough start, as four of the five ASU starters missed a layup before the Devils hit a field goal. They started 1-10 from the field, yet the Vikings did not fare much better, hitting only three of their first ten.

Three straight layups in the early going gave Portland State some momentum as they took an 8-2 lead, leaving the Sun Devils searching for a way to spice up their offense.

The answer came in the form of guard Torian Graham. The senior took up the heat check mantle and brought life to ASU. Within 10 minutes, he had 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including four three-pointers. He didn’t have quite as exciting a second half, but nonetheless, finishing with 23 points on 9-11 from the field.

“Torian was obviously terrific today, shooting the ball and gave us a real spark in the first half,”  ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “His minutes are going to be there if he continues to do the things that he’s doing at both ends of the court. ” Hurley went on to call Graham a “contested-shot maker”.

During that same stretch where Graham caught fire, their defense came to life as well. The Vikings went 1-of-12 on field goal attempts between the 14:45 and 4:30 mark in the first half. The Devils contested well on the perimeter, holding the Vikings to 6-of-27 shooting from deep.

The halftime break only served to boost the Devils’ momentum. They started out the half making 9-of-11 shots, with junior guard Shannon Evans II scoring eight points to lead the attack.

Evans and backcourt mate Tra Holder took the reigns from Graham in the second half. Holder put up 23 points and four assists, while Evans added 19 points of his own, including 12 after the break.

Graham’s hot shooting gave the Arizona State bench a major leg up over the Vikings. ASU finished with 30 points from its second unit, compared to 18 for the opposition.

“Honestly, coming off the bench I can see how the flow of the game is going,” Graham said. “I like being the spark off the bench of the team.”

PSU was led by forward Braxton Tucker, who put up 19 points and six rebounds. His attempts to carry the team fell short, with only one other Viking reaching double figures in Friday’s contest.

The Devils hit a few rough patches in the second half, but always came back before the lead got too narrow. After their 9-for-11 start, they missed five straight field goals and gave up three baskets on the other end. The Devils turned back around, hitting four of their next six shots starting with a pair of layups from Evans.

The Sun Devils also showed their muscle, dominating the rebound battle 35-24. Senior forward Obinna Oleka grabbed 13 rebounds to lead the team. Tucker led the Vikings rebound efforts with six.

“I thoght our job on the backboards was encouraging,” Hurley said. “I know they’re not the biggest team either, but I liked how we competed.”

If there was a notable absence for the Devils ,it was the youngsters. Guard Sam Cunliffe and center Jethro Tshisumpa combined to play 22 total minutes and score three points. Cunliffe finished with two turnovers and four fouls before exiting with 12 minutes remaining in the game.

The Sun Devils fared fine without their freshman. Their lead peaked at 24 midway through the second half and they never looked back. The three-headed monster of Graham, Holder, and Evans proved to be the guiding force for the offense. ASU shot 33-of-67 from the field, with 38 points coming in the paint.

Similar to their exhibition game, it took the Sun Devils a little while to wake up. Once they did, they put on a fearsome scoring display that should set them up to be confident when they face Cal Poly in Tempe on Sunday.

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