(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
While they did not put on an inspiring display coming off of their first loss of the season against Northern Iowa, the Arizona State Sun Devils managed to get back on track Friday with a 80-71 win over the Tulane Green Wave.
Three-pointers proved to be the major story of the contest. Both teams heavily favored the long ball, relying heavily on it to carry their respective offenses. ASU’s first six field goal attempts were all from behind the line, as were four of the Green Wave’s first five shots. Of the first 30 attempts by both teams, 17 were threes.
The Devils finished with a slight advantage in that regard, shooting 12-29 from long range, while Tulane went 10-28.
Arizona State, in a departure from its usual sluggish trend this season, got off to a scorching start. The Devils jumped out to an 8-1 lead before the Green Wave went on a 7-0 run on the back of sophomore guard Melvin Frazier. With the momentum on the heels of the Green Wave, the Devils were playing from behind during the middle of the first half.
Then, on the back of some strong zone defending, ASU was able to regain the lead thanks to a three from freshman Sam Cunliffe and and two highlight worthy dunks from senior Torian Graham.
Graham, making his second start of the season, once again grabbed the reigns for ASU. His pair of strong slams gave ASU some much-desired energy in the first half. He finished with a team-best 22 points on 8-14 shooting.
The first 20 minutes were an up-and-down fight for the Devils’ offense. Within the last four minutes, ASU made five straight field goals and then proceeded to miss three consecutive layups. The run by Arizona State proved to be enough to set them up with a comfortable 40-29 lead at half.
The defense similarly came and went before the break. ASU executed well in the 2-3 zone but also had seven team fouls with almost 12 minutes left in the half.
The Sun Devils tried to come out and close the game out in the early minutes of the second half, but the Green Wave refused to go quietly. In the early part of the second, Tulane made 9 of 12 field goal attempts. Overall, Tulane shot 47.1 percent in the second half, while ASU made only 40.7 percent of its shots.
A 9-0 run from the Green Wave, starting at the 11-minute mark, made it a two point game. Graham and junior guard Shannon Evans II helped ASU get back on track, scoring eight of the Devils next 10 points to help them hang on to the lead, eventually getting it to 68-58. Evans finished just behind Graham with 21 points.
The Sun Devils strong first half was a major part of their win. They lost the rebound battle 40-31 and had 11 assists compared to 16 for Tulane. Yet, the Green Wave only shot 8-23 from the floor in the first. That gap proved key for ASU’s victory.
While there were rough patches, the defensive statistics look encouraging in several areas. Tulane finished with 18 turnovers while ASU only had 10. Beyond that, despite giving up 13 offensive rebounds, the Devils only surrendered 4 second chance points.
Another encouraging sign for the Devils was the play of Sam Cunliffe, who has taken small but steady steps in his first four games. The freshman from Seattle had 10 points and three rebounds on 4-7 shooting. He showed good instincts on when to shoot from range and when to attack the rim.
In the middle of the half, ASU junior guard Kodi Justice limped off the floor after taking a hard fall. He briefly went to the locker room but came back in the final stretch, finishing with eight points including making 5-6 from the foul line.
On the Tulane side, redshirt junior Cameron Reynolds was the only other player to score in double figures. The Green Wave (1-3) lost to Oklahoma in the first round on Thursday.
The game was not the dominant performance fans may have been hoping for after two encouraging wins to open the season. However, ASU (3-1) showed resilience in keeping a handle on things. Especially for young teams, it’s very easy to see a game coming apart, but the Sun Devils were able to play a strong 40 minutes.
The Sun Devil’s will head back to the court on Sunday for a 5th place game against the Davidson Wildcats to finish off the Tire Pros Invitational. That game will be at 12:30 Arizona time on ESPNU.