Trailing 40-44 with 16:34 left to go in the second half, it appeared Arizona State was ready to let another 10-point lead slip out of its fingertips at Wells Fargo Arena. But as the Sun Devils were seemingly spiraling down the same turbulent path they followed in their 66-63 Friday night loss to Sacramento State, ASU senior guard Gerry Blakes had other plans.
Knocking down his second three-pointer of the night in front of ASU's bench with 16:05 left in the second half, Blakes sparked a 9-2 ASU run to give the Sun Devils enough push to not only re-take, but keep, the lead for the remainder of the game against the Belmont Bruins en route to a 83-74 victory in front of 4,549 in attendance Monday night.
"It was a big win for us," Blakes said. "We knew Belmont was a great team, they're a tournament team and word through the grapevine, they were expected to win so that gave us a boost to not lose a second game on our home court so it was a must-win."
Blakes led ASU (1-1) with 22 points on 9 of 16 from the field with eight rebounds and three assists. Coincidentally, Monday was also Blakes' 22nd birthday.
Belmont (1-1) went 22-11 last year, losing to Virginia 79-67 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Bruins have gone to the NCAA tournament four of the past five seasons as the Ohio Valley Conference champions.
"For our season more so than me personally for these guys to work the way they worked, to have to live for 48 hours with the results of Friday night and to respond and beat a good team here, I'm proud of the group for doing that," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said.
ASU shot 47.4 percent from the field on the night, 57.1 percent in the second half alone on 16 of 28 shooting from the field. The Sun Devils held Belmont to 38.1 percent shooting on the night on 24 of 63 attempts and held Belmont senior guard Craig Bradshaw, who led the league last year with 18.3 points, to a mere 12 points on 3 of 9 shot attempts.
"Gerry did a great job on Bradshaw," Hurley said. "He (Blakes) loves guarding people and he challenge. He saw the film. Bradshaw is a tough kid who believes in himself. He puts points on the board. Leading scorer of his conference and Gerry wanted a piece of him and he did a great job for us.”
But Blakes wasn't the only ASU guard to make an impact for the Sun Devils. After Blakes hit his three-pointer to put ASU down 43-44 with 15:47 left to go in the second half, ASU junior guard Andre Spight rattled off three consecutive three-pointers to give the Sun Devils a 52-51 lead before ASU junior forward Savon Goodman followed up Spight's performance with two straight baskets of his own.
"My teammates just found me in the corner and that's where I like to spot up at," Spight said of his hot streak from behind the arc. "They weren't falling against Sacramento State, but I got in the gym last night and I definitely knew they were going to fall tonight. My teammates found me and trusted me."
Against Sacramento State on Friday night, Spight was 1 of 8 from the field and 0 of 5 from three-point range in a performance in which the Sun Devils saw its three newcomers -- Spight, junior forward Obinna Oleka and sophomore wing Maurice O'Field -- all combine for just 1 of 12 shooting from the field.
And while O'Field and Oleka again struggled on the court, ASU sophomore guard Kodi Justice exceeded expectations in his 16 minutes on the floor, tallying 13 points off 3 of 6 shooting from behind the arc and dishing out three assists after sophomore point guard Tra Holder picked up two quick fouls to start the game.
With Holder struggling, Justice also had back-to-back three-pointers in a 1:30 minute span with 6:40 remaining in the second half to push ASU's once 63-61 lead to 69-61 with 5:06 remaining in the game.
"We believe in Kodi playing minutes like he played tonight," Hurley said.
Coming off the bench, Goodman had a solid game for the Sun Devils despite picking up two early fouls in the first half, recording a double-double after only 15 minutes of play. Goodman finished the game with 13 points and 12 rebounds in 22 minutes. Like Goodman and Holder's quick two fouls early in the game, ASU plagued with fouls all night in a game that saw a combined 47 fouls.
ASU senior forward Willie Atwood and Oleka both had three fouls going into halftime and four by the night's end.
"It just become hard to manage the type of rotation you like," Hurley said regarding ASU's foul trouble. "It interferences with having the right mix of guys on the floor sometimes. It's frustrating for the guys you want to be playing more minutes."
Despite the foul troubles, ASU jumped out to a 36-26 lead with three minutes left to go in the first half, but then Belmont resiliently fought its way back, going on a 6-0 run over the last 1:37 to cut the Sun Devils' lead to 36-32 headed into the locker room at halftime.
It was a sloppy first half of play for both teams with ASU having 11 turnovers and 13 fouls compared to Belmont who had 10 turnovers and 11 fouls. ASU ended the game with 22 turnovers to Belmont's 14.
Despite its own turnovers, ASU was able to capitalize on the Bruins', notching 25 points off turnovers compared to Belmont's 16. By halftime, the Bruins -- known for their three-point capabilities -- shot 18.8 percent from downtown, going 3 of 16. ASU on the other hand was 30.8 percent from downtown, going 4 of 13. Blakes led the Sun Devils at halftime with nine points on 3 of 7 shooting from the field, 1 of 2 from three-point range.
"We ended up tightening up the screws and being the team we wanted to be tonight," Blakes said.