Sun Devils surge in second half, beat the Owls 91-53

After blowing out Kennesaw State 91-48 Wednesday night, the Sun Devils will travel to Brooklyn, New York next week to finish out the Legends Classic

Yes, Arizona State blew out Kennesaw State -- the team picked to finish last in the Atlantic Sun Conference this season -- 91-48 at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday night. 

No, the Sun Devils' second win of the season won't mean much tomorrow when ASU will switch gears and prepare to play N.C. State on Monday and then LSU or Marquette on the Tuesday of next week in the continuance of the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, New York. 

"You hope that you bring the confidence you are able to get from this and bring it onto the floor on Monday," ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said. "We need to have several good practices against to continue and fine tune our execution and there's less of a margin of not playing well when you step up in competition like we will next week." 

Now sitting with a 2-1 record before heading out of the comforts of Wells Fargo Arena, ASU senior guard Gerry Blakes sees a clear similarity between the situation this Sun Devils' team is in now compared to last year. Only this time, Blakes is looking for better results from the team's first road trip of the year. 

"This kind of reminds me of when we went to Kansas City last year and we played against Alabama and Maryland," Blakes said. "Those two games in that situation was very vital and we didn't understand that at the moment, but going into this we kind of understand the importance of these games and I think we'll try to maximize this opportunity." 

Last season, ASU opened with a 3-0 start before playing in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Missouri. Facing two high-caliber teams in Maryland and Alabama, the Sun Devils lost to both teams by a margin of five points each.

ASU had the lead for a majority of the first half against Maryland, but in a game that had seven ties and 11 game changes, the Sun Devils couldn't deliver at the end, going without a field goal in the final 1:36. Against Alabama, the Crimson Tide got a two-point lead with 45.8 seconds left in the game and ultimately won the game at the free-throw line. 

Now going to Brooklyn, Hurley said these are the games teams want to be a part of and being so early in the season it gives ASU a chance to gain even more confidence and play for a championship. 

But while beating Kennesaw State (0-3) won't be a considered an impressive win by any means, Hurley sees many positives coming out of ASU's win in front of 4,197 Wednesday night. 

"It's hard not to feel good about ourselves tonight," Hurley said. "We came out the right way, I thought we started well. We had a stretch at the end of the first half that I thought we weren't at our best and maybe had chances to put them away any sooner, but I liked how we came out of the gates to start the second half and we got on a run and it obviously extended our lead."  

After going up 35-24 at halftime the Sun Devils went on a quick 7-0 run to start the second half -- increasing their already 11-point lead to 18 points -- and they never looked back. ASU junior forward Obinna Oleka scored a team-high 19 points on 7 of 9 shooting from the field in 21 minutes. 

In the Sun Devils' previous two games, Oleka shot 0 of 4 from the field and scored zero points. 

"As a junior college guy who hasn't played in two years, you know he showed some things out there so I'm happy for him that he played well," Hurley said.

But Oleka wasn't the only player to put up a double-digit game. ASU senior forward Willie Atwood scored 10 points on 3 of 4 shooting, junior point guard Tra Holder had 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting and senior center Eric Jacobsen had 15 points in addition to 10 rebounds.  

"We have numerous guys who have the potential to score in double figures and different options based on our opponent and how they're guarding us," Hurley said. 

With Jacobsen's double-double, the Sun Devils have now had a double-double from one of its players in each of their first three games. Atwood had 11 points and 11 rebounds against Sacramento State and junior forward Savon Goodman scored 13 points and had 12 rebounds against Belmont. 

But Jacobsen's 10 rebounds weren't even a team-high on Wednesday. While Blakes scored zero points in the first half en route to a eight-point showing, Blakes grabbed down a career-high 12 rebounds on the night -- nine in the first half alone. 

"I had to do something and I felt like going to the glass was big for me and I feel like as guards we have to do that to help our team and I took initiative to do that," Blakes said. 

In addition to Blakes having a good rebounding night, he also had another solid showing on the defensive side of the court in terms of matching up against the Owls' leading scorer, senior guard Yonel Brown. 

One game after holding Belmont leading-scorer Craig Bradshaw to 12 points on 3 of 9 shooting, Blakes held Brown to a mere 11 points on 4 of 17 shooting from the floor. Brown scored 35 points against Alabama in the Owls' second game of the season.  

Hurley called Blakes an "elite athlete" in the post-game press conference and said Blakes wants to guard the best player on the floor at all times and that attribute about him is something he likes about Blakes' mindset on the court. 

"Oh, I didn't even notice," Blakes said about holding Brown to 4 of 17 shooting from the field. "I don't know I just take pride in defense and he averaged what like 22 or something like that? I just tried to trim it down a little bit to give us a better chance to win. It wasn't just me though. I'll give credit to my team though, team defense." 

Collectively as a team, ASU dominated on the glass, grabbing down 53 rebounds -- 28 in the first half -- compared to the Owls’ mere 24 total rebounds in the game. In the first four minutes against the Owls, ASU nabbed 10 rebounds to Kennesaw State’s one. 

ASU ended the night with a 42 to 20 points in the paint advantage over the Owls and 20 second chance points. 

"I just like the aggression, the physicality we are rebounding the ball with and our defense was pretty solid to hold them to 32 percent and also very low percentage from three-point range and those are things we need to bring all the time we step out onto the floor," Hurley said. 

With success on the glass early, ASU jumped out to an early 21-8 lead in the first nine minutes of play until ASU only scored 14 more points in the final 11 minutes of the first half due to 11 first-half turnovers. After gaining its 21-8 lead, ASU had a three-minute stretch when it turned the ball over five times and didn't score a single point. 

The Owls' leading scorer was senior forward Nigel Pruitt, scoring 10 first-half points before turning out a 19-point performance on 7 of 12 shooting from the field. 

"I think we started out playing strong but then there was a point where we started playing lackadaisical so coach really emphasized at halftime that we had to come out aggressive and take care of the ball and make the simple play and we did just that and that's why we had no turnovers," Holder said. 

Holder -- in stark contrast to Mondays' game when he picked up two quick fouls that forced him to sit for a majority of the first half -- scored ASU's first four points of the game and led the Sun Devils at halftime with 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting from the field and three rebounds. 

The Sun Devils’ 11 turnovers match ASU's Monday night performance when they turned the ball over 11 times in the first half to Belmont's 10. But after 11 first-half turnovers, the Sun Devils had zero in the second half. Still, Hurley was relatively displeased with his squad's effort, only dishing out 15 assists to the team's 11 turnovers on the night. 

"One of our game keys was a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio and obviously we didn't meet that goal," Hurley said. "But zero in the second half was a really good number for us." 

The Sun Devils shot 14 of 29 in the first half, 1 of 8 from downtown and 6 of 8 from the free throw line. 

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