(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
In their first home game of the year, the Arizona State Sun Devils coasted to a 98-53 victory over the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs in a preseason exhibition game at Wells Fargo arena.
ASU got off to a slow start, falling behind 12-4 early in the first half after UCSC junior guard Corey Cilia hit his second three of the game. The Sun Devils promptly responded with a 13-0 run led by junior guard Shannon Evans II. Evans hit a three to give ASU its first lead of the game and then floated in a layup two plays later to give ASU a 17-12 lead.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said he was underwhelmed by his team’s play to start the game.
“I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic with the first eight minutes of the game,” Hurley said. “Most times you play that way for that stretch of time its not going to be a great result. Our energy got better as the half went on but I don’t think we played a great half on offense.”
The Sun Devils went on a 23-4 run to end the half fueled by the shooting of junior guard Torian Graham. Graham was huge for ASU, nailing fifty percent of his threes and leading the Sun Devils in scoring.
He started his night off by hitting a wide open three with just over a minute left in the first half. Graham then hit two more three pointers on ASU’s next two possessions to give the Sun Devils a 46-23 lead at half time.
Graham once again caught fire midway through the second half. He scored 10 points in under two minutes and added two more threes to his grand total for the night.
Hurley felt that Graham could have played even better despite his impressive offensive output.
“Torian didn’t start particularly well but he had great energy on defense when he first came in,” Hurley said. “He’s been playing both ends at a high level and I think he could have played an even better offensive game. He can can really shoot it and he’s been shooting that way most of the preseason.”
Graham finished with 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting with five three pointers.
Top freshman recruit Sam Cunliffe struggled at times during the night, going 3 of 11 from the field. However, Cunliffe contributed significantly on the boards, leading the team with nine total rebounds. He also managed to consistently get to the line, going 7 of 10 from the charity stripe.
“Sam did pretty well but I think he’s capable of doing more like most of our guys tonight,” Hurley said. “He rebounded pretty well in the first half and that’s gonna be something I need from him because of his athleticism. I know he can put it on the floor and he can score the ball so I thought he did a nice job of that at times for us also.”
Halfway through the second half ASU freshman center Jethro Tshisumpa made a huge block, pinning a layup against the backboard which lead to a Maurice O’Field layup on the other end.
A few minutes later Tshisumpa used a ball fake in the post to score an easy layup giving ASU a 83-40 lead, the largest of the night. With ASU implementing a smaller lineup, at times Tshisumpa was the only big man on the court for the Sun Devils. Evans said he felt Tshisumpa and the other freshmen contributed heavily to the team tonight.
“I feel like he [Tshisumpa} was real good today,” Evans said. “Jethro [Tshisumpa} had a great performance today. All the freshmen have really been catching on and me, Tra [Holder, and Kodi [Justice] have been leading this thing so everything’s been going well
Hurley said that while the team didn’t perform to their best ability, there where still some positives to take into the season opener next week.
“It a good starting point for guys who haven’t played in a while or are incoming freshmen,” Hurley said. “This was a good dress rehearsal before we start for real next week.”