ASU Outlasts UC Irvine, Improves to 11-2

It wasn't a pretty affair for Arizona State on Saturday afternoon. Yet, the Sun Devils closed out their non-conference slate of the schedule notching their 11th win, as they beat UC-Irvine at Wells Fargo Arena 74-61.

Arizona State (11-2, 8-0 home) opened the game shooting just 1-10 from the field as they fell behind by four points early on to the Anteaters. In fact, the Sun Devils didn't reach double digit points until the 8:46 mark when a Shaquille McKissic fast break dunk trimmed the deficit to two. But on a day when ASU's offense struggled to get on track, the Sun Devils relied on their defense to charge ahead.

Arizona State held UC-Irvine (7-7, 4-4 away) scoreless for more than three minutes and used an 11-0 run to seize control of a back and forth first half before heading into halftime with a 35-23 lead.

"The big difference was defensive intensity," said senior Jordan Bachynski. "We did a really good job in the first half on that run of putting stops together. So, getting a stop and scoring, and then getting another stop and stringing those together is the reason we won."

The Sun Devils stretched their lead to as many as 17 in the early moments of the second half before having to withstand a late rally by the Anteaters in the end.

Clinging to a six point lead, junior Jon Gilling knocked down a baseline jumper to snap an 8-0 run by UC-Irvine with 3:44 to play. Following a Will Davis II close-range jumper, freshman Egor Koulechov found an open Gilling again at the top of the key for his third three point basket of the game, pushing ASU's lead up to nine.

Arizona State dug deep once more on defense, forcing a UC-Irvine turnover on the following possession which resulted in a transition three-point play by McKissic, putting the Sun Devils ahead comfortably as they held on for the win.

McKissic, who started for the second consecutive game, provided the spark ASU's slumping offense needed. The athletic forward scored 15 of his game-high 18 points in the second half, while also adding four rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals in the win.

"I think I was getting away from the 50-50 plays and just going in there and trying to get a (rebound) every time," McKissic remarked. "Today I just came in like, 'I don't care what else happens or how many points I score, but rebounds and hustle plays definitely have to be on my side.

"I think it's just working hard and just giving the effort and going out there and playing how you're supposed to play. If you do that, there's not too much that can go wrong."

McKissic was one of four Sun Devils to score in double figures on Saturday, joined by Gilling who added 13 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 5-7 from the field and 3-4 from behind the three point line.

"Jon Gilling, I thought, played one of his better games here of late," said Head Coach Herb Sendek. "He made two big field goals down the homestretch; a little baseline shot and then the three up top. And his assists numbers continue to be impressive. His assists compared to the other years are way up and that's a positive for our team."

Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall, who both had season-highs in last weekend's win over Texas Tech, struggled to find their rhythm against the stingy UC-Irvine defense.

Carson, who recorded a career-high 13 assists in his last outing, scored 16 points against the Anteaters but turned the ball over five times and was held without an assist for the first time in his career. Marshall followed up his 27 point outburst the Red Raiders with just 10 points on 2-10 shooting from the field.

For the second consecutive game, Arizona State was dominated on the boards by a bigger front-court, which allowed the Anteaters to hang around late in the game. Led by freshman center Mamadou Ndiaye, UC-Irvine out-rebound the Sun Devils 44-34, including 13 offensive rebounds which resulted in 14 second chance points.

The 7'6" Ndiaye, from Senegal, finished with 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks after being held scoreless in the first half. Forward Will Davis II added 18 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.

"I think the biggest thing is, we've got to play better defense," said Bachynski. "We've got to keep our man in front of us. Today was tough because Ndiaye is just a big guy. I did what I could and made him travel a couple times, which is all you can do. I just had to move my feet and do what I could but defense, I think, is going to be the key to our success.

"I feel like we're miles away from where we need to be on defense, and that's everybody except for JB because I feel like without him we'd be in a world of trouble," added McKissic. "I feel like we all try to stay on our men and JB is kind of the emergency exit, so when we get down to it, we're like, 'Okay, he got past us but hopefully JB comes and swats it," which he does most of the time. We just have to make it a top priority."

With the win, Arizona State improved to 24-4 at home over the last two seasons. The Sun Devils, winners of their last four games, will now prepare to host Washington (7-5, 1-1 away) on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in the first conference game of the season for both teams.

"I wish we were 13-0," commented Sendek. "I wish we could have two of those to do over again but I think given the schedule we've played, we have a good non-conference resume that will hopefully serve us well when March comes. For the second year in a row we have 11 non-conference wins and this year in particular, I think it was against a very formidable schedule."

"The Pac-12 is going to be tough this year," concluded Bachynski. "We've got, what, four top 25 teams in the Pac-12? The Pac has definitely stepped its game up and what Coach Herb has done is put us against the best teams.

"We played some really, really solid teams and had some great wins and hopefully it's prepared us. Only time will tell but I feel more prepared than in past years."

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