(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
After a horrid start offensively and without leading scorer and rebounder Savon Goodman, Arizona State regrouped and rallied in the second half to comeback from 12 points down to defeat the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 66-56.
With Goodman out due to personal reasons, the Sun Devils had a hard time getting going on the offensive end, shooting just 10-for-34 (29.4 percent) overall and 1-for-13 (7.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
“We were struggling with our flow on offense,” ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. “(Freshman guard) Tra (Holder) maybe was the only guy in a good rhythm out there, and Eric was saddled with fouls again, and we were already shorthanded, so we had our issues in the first half.
Compounding those struggles was the fact that UNLV was on fire to start the game.
The Rebels went 14-for-24 (58.3 percent) and 5-for-10 (50 percent) in the first half and had their way with the pace of play en route to a 37-25 advantage going into the locker room. UNLV freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman paced his team with seven points, five rebounds and two blocks in the first half. As a team, the Rebels had seven blocks in the first half.
“It always affects you if you don’t shoot the ball well,” Holder said. “We weren’t getting any stops, so we couldn’t get any transition points
The second half was an entirely different story, however. ASU sophomore guard Tra Holder came out on fire with eight points in the first five minutes of the second half. Holder was specifically successful running a high pick-and-roll and exposing UNLV’s big men and drawing fouls.
“I was actually surprised how easily I was getting to the basket,” Holder said. “I think we just got to make smarter decisions when we go in there, try to pump fake into their chest and will the victory.”
After back-to-back threes from senior forward Willie Atwood, the game was level at 50. A free throw from senior center Eric Jacobsen gave ASU the lead at 51-50, and senior guard Gerry Blakes added to that lead with a quirky mid-range jumper to beat the shot clock.
“God was with me,” Blakes said. “I got to a spot, but I wasn’t really in motion, but I just had the floater – we work on floaters – so I just lofted it up, got it up there.”
ASU clearly ramped up the effort on both ends of the floor, and switching to a 2-3 zone clearly bothered the Rebels, who shot just 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) in the second half. Zimmerman was held to only two points and two rebounds in the final 20 minutes.
Even without Goodman, ASU finished plus-13 on the glass, with Blakes and Holder combining for 20 of ASU’s 43 rebounds overall. Blakes notched his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Holder contributed with a career-high nine boards.
“Eleven defensive rebounds… I mean, for a guard, that’s ridiculous,” Hurley said. “He played a really solid second half.”
And while a lot of rebounding correlates with effort and positioning, Holder admitted he felt luck at times throughout the game.
“The ball felt like it was just falling into my hands sometimes,” Holder said. “I was just trying to create extra plays, and luckily I was able to get the ball.”
It was yet another game the Sun Devils outrebounded their opponents, and with only three scholarship big men available (Jacobsen, Atwood and junior forward Obinna Oleka), getting the guards to mix it up on the glass was critical in ASU’s effort.
“It’s (rebounding) been our calling card since we’ve started,” Hurley said. “I think it starts with Willie Atwood and how he goes after it. He sets a great down for that, and he had a few putbacks in the first half.”
Throughout the second frame, ASU out-hustled UNLV on various 50-50 balls, channelling the intensity from its head coach, who let out a primal scream on the bench as his team sealed the win in a hostile environment.
“He (Hurley) has great energy,” Blakes said. “That’s what it was at the end. He was very excited like we were because we wanted to pull it out.”
It was yet another tough, nonconference win on the road for the Sun Devils, boosting their NCAA Tournament resume early in the season, but more importantly, boosting the team’s confidence as Pac-12 play looms.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Blakes said. “Hardworking group of guys, and we’re on a mission. I think that’s the biggest thing for us. Whatever comes our way, we’re going to grind it out, fight it out, and try to get the win.”
You can reach Zac Pacleb on Twitter @ZacPacleb or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.