ASU road win in Pac-12 hoops opener is first in 7 years


The tipping point seems to be 88 points.  Any time the Arizona State men’s basketball team scores at least 88 points, it wins.

The Sun Devils are 6-0 when hitting that mark.  And it doesn’t seem to make much difference how many points the other team scores.  The Citadel ran up 110 points in a Nov. 23 game, but still lost to the Devils, who scored 127.

Their last game, Stanford put 93 points on the board.  ASU scored 98.

That Friday game against the Cardinal held special significance.  It marks a turnaround from last season when the Sun Devils lost their conference opener to University of Arizona – and got off to a terrible start in Pac-12 play by winning just once in their first seven games.  They went on to a 5-13 conference finish and 15-17 overall.

That was Bobby Hurley‘s first season as the new ASU head coach.  This year he is beginning to enjoy the fruits of his recruiting efforts, blending in a top-20 recruiting class to give the Devils a much better chance of moving up to the next rung on the ladder that will hopefully take the program to national prominence.

The 45-year-old coach knows what it takes to win big.  He led national power St. Anthony High School in New Jersey to four straight state titles and then added a couple of NCAA titles to his resume while playing at Duke.

Expectations aren’t high for his second season running the ASU program.  The Sun Devils were picked to finish 11th in the conference.

But, if you take a close look at what’s happening so far, this team appears capable of exceeding those pre-season predictions.  Three of the six losses on the schedule were to nationally-ranked teams: Kentucky, Purdue, and Creighton.  And now they’ve begun conference play on a high note with the 98-93 win over Stanford – on the road, no less.

Believe it or not, that one conference road win is as many as they posted the entire 2015-16 season.  If they beat California tonight it will be the first time since the 1987-88 season that an ASU team has begun a conference schedule with back-to-back wins on the road.  As it is, Friday’s road win to open conference play marks the first time that’s happened since 2009.

The Golden Bears (9-4) could prove to be more of a challenge than Stanford, which was picked to finish just one spot ahead of ASU in the pre-season poll. Cal is hungry for a home win after dropping the last two in Haas Pavilion.  That’s high frustration for a team that won all 18 of its home games last season.

Cal won seven of its first eight games, but has been inconsistent since.  It has lost its last two games, averaging just 67 points a game. However, they lost to No. 18 Arizona by just five points.

By contrast, ASU is averaging 83.5 points a game and put up 98 points in each of its last two games.

In Friday’s game against Stanford, four Sun Devils finished in double figures.  But it was the 30 points from Torian Graham and another 25 from Tra Holder that pushed the Devils over the top to claim their first conference-opener win on the road in seven years.

This was the sixth game this season, and the third consecutive, that Graham has scored 20 or more points. With his 30 against the Cardinal, he became the first ASU player to score 30 or more since Jahii Carson posted a 40-point game against UNLV in November of 2013.

Shannon Evans had 15 points for the night and Obinna Oleka chipped in 11.

The Devils picked up a big scoring boost at the free throw line, adding 33 points on 43 trips to the line.  The 33 made free throws are the second-highest by any ASU team in a Pac-12 game.

And their accuracy behind the three-point line has been another key to the offense.  Twice this season, the Devils have collected 18 3-pointers to tie a school record.  Friday night, they were 13-of-24 from behind the arc.  They entered that game averaging 10 treys per game, which ranks as 12th-best in the country.

Another good sign: ASU won the battle on the boards, finishing with a 35-25 rebounding advantage.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)