From the start of Arizona State’s game against Oregon State it was clear there was something very different about the Sun Devils.
The team seemingly had a rejuvenated energy, racing up and down the court with confidence Thursday night as their shots continuously fell from the beyond the arc and Oregon State’s shot attempts managed to consistantly bounce off the rim.
In contrast to its 1-6 start to Pac-12 play, ASU looked and played like the dominant Pac-12 squad that went 10-3 in non-conference play to start the season and as the Sun Devils jumped out to a commanding 30-9 lead in the game’s first 14 minutes, it seemed like everything had finally clicked once more.
ASU senior guard Gerry Blakes nailed down two three-pointers with only one-second remaining on the shot clock, sophomore guard Tra Holder's defense held OSU's leading scorer, senior guard Gary Payton II, to a mere two points all game, and five ASU players ended the night in double-figures.
Against the Beavers on Thursday, ASU took its first step toward getting out of the cellar of the Pac-12 by beating OSU 86-68 in front of 6,074 in attendance at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Sun Devils improved to 12-9 overall and 2-6 in Pac-12 play. The Beavers dropped to 12-7 and 4-4.
The Beavers were coming off a 85-70 victory over No. 21 USC Sunday night.
ASU head coach Bobby Hurley said after the game he believes his team is better than its record reflects, but there’s nothing anyone can do about that now.
“There's nothing to change that (ASU’s record) at this point, but these guys answered the bell and we’ve been competitive in every game we’ve played in the conference and it is demoralizing to lose close games and not be able to break though, but it’s nice to have a confidence-building performance like we had on offense tonight and hopefully that will trigger additional momentum moving forward,” Hurley said.
With the win, ASU snapped a three-game losing streak, the two most recent losses coming on the road at California and Stanford.
The Sun Devils only trailed the game once, credit to OSU freshman forward Drew Eubanks' dunk with 19:42 left in the first half for the game’s first basket.
After ASU senior Willie Atwood nailed down a three-pointer on the other end of the floor with 19:20 remaining in the first half, the Sun Devils never trailed again.
“He (Hurley has) inspired us to want to fight through this tough time right now and he's down a great job of that and like he said, he's emphasized starting off the game in the right way and I think that's what led us to this victory,” Blakes said.
ASU’s largest lead of the night was 27 points.
ASU finished the game shooting 59.3 percent from the field, its best in a Pac-12 matchup since it shot 63.8 percent at Washington on Feb. 2, 2013.
The Sun Devils also ended the game with the most assists in a conference game since they dished out 24 against Oregon State on March 5, 2011.
“We had a lot of guys playing well and contributing and to have five guys in doubles and two guys with eight and 24 assists on 32 field goals, that was great numbers for us on offense and the way we shot the three,” Hurley said. “Very, very happy with our offense.”
By halftime, ASU was up 36-17 over the Beavers due to OSU's mere 19.2 shooting percentage from the field.
OSU’s 17 points was the lowest points for an ASU opponent at halftime since No. 18 Texas A&M scored 19 points on December 5, 2015.
"It felt good because coach wanted to do something different because he always says we start out practice slow and it gradually gets better and we forget about how slow practice started out, but most of our games went like that before and he (Hurley) just said, ‘How about we start practice out with a great energy?’ and it translated to the game and that’s what we did,” Atwood said.
Shooting 5 of 26 from the field in the first half and 3 of 12 from the three-point arc, the Beavers failed to get in any offensive rhythm.
OSU's leading scorer, rebounder, assist-leader and steal-leader, Payton II, had zero points in the first half on three shot attempts from the field.
Payton II came into the game averaging 17.5 points per game, 8.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists.
"Tra did a phenomenal job guarding him (Payton II) and overall it was a team effort we wanted to shrink the floor as made him take tough shots,” Blakes said.
Hurley said he wants to focus more on letting players guard the other guy in their position and that he’s excited for Holder to see his defensive progression as a player.
OSU’s second leading scorer, also OSU head coach Wayne Tinkle’s son, freshman forward Tres Tinkle, was OSU’s second-leading scorer headed into Thursday’s contest and finished with 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting from the field.
“Give (ASU) credit again, if there was any bit of momentum (ASU) hit some tough shots that kind of broke our back,” Wayne Tinkle said. “There was some fight in us but (ASU) just took it away from us, so give them credit again. I’m just disappointed that, with the momentum we got off the USC win the other day, that we came out for the first couple possessions and we just weren’t playing Beaver basketball.”
Leading the way for ASU was junior forward Obinna Oleka, scoring 17 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the field, 2 of 3 from three-point range.
In the first half, ASU shot 12 of 23 from the field and 5 of 11 from three. Offensively, ASU moved the ball well, resulting in nine assists on 12 made field goals in the first half.
The Sun Devils also benefitted from the Beavers eight turnovers in the first half, resulting in 13 points off of turnovers for ASU.