Sun Devils defeat Vikings 88-70 after slow start

Arizona State senior Torian Graham and junior Tra Holder each scored a team-high 23 points in ASU's season opening victory.

In missing a handful of point-blank scoring opportunities at the rim, the immediate start to the Arizona State season didn't exactly inspire confidence. 

The Sun Devils couldn't buy a basket at the outset of its season opener, with failed layup attempts by four different players, including highly touted junior backcourt duo, Shannon Evans and Tra Holder

However, to second-year ASU head coach Bobby Hurley, the missed shots were nothing more than something to smile about. 

"I was never like worried really," Hurley said. "I knew they were good moves and the ball just wasn't bouncing it. I kind of smiled a couple times because I knew the offense would take care of itself." 

Just as Hurley predicted, ASU (1-0) re-grouped from a slow start in a dominating fashion, getting the 88-70 win over PSU (0-1) in front of 7,398 at Wells Fargo Arena in its 2016-17 season opener. 

After going down 8-2 and shooting 1 of 9 from the field in the first five minutes of the game, ASU went on a 36-12 run over the next 12 minutes to take control of a game that should have never gotten away from it in the first place. 

"We didn't make layups early which I thought we have given us more confidence and they were shots that we normally make," Hurley said. "I know we have the ability to score."

The Vikings got to within 10 points just before halftime, but the Sun Devils quickly erased PSU’s chance to bring ASU's lead down to single digits, going into halftime up 44-30.

ASU's second half play was equally as dominate, with ASU taking its largest lead of the game, 69-45, with 12:25 to go in the second half. ASU finished the game shooting 33-of-67 from the field, 9-of-28 from behind the arc. 

Last year, the Sun Devils lost its opener in Hurley's ASU coaching debut, 66-63, to Sacramento State. ASU was 15-17 overall, 5-13 in the Pac-12 last year.

Portland State was 13-18 overall, 8-10 in the Big Sky Conference last season. Portland State was picked No. 9 in the Big Sky Media Poll and No. 8 in the Big Sky Coaches Poll. 

This season, the Sun Devils were ranked No.11 in the Pac-12 Media Poll and rated No. 64 according to the Pomeroy College Basketball Preseason Ratings. 

ASU senior guard Torian Graham led the Sun Devils first half charge with 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the field. Graham finished the game with 23 points and was 9-of-11 shooting from the field, 5-of-6 from behind the arc. 

"To you guys it's like wow and to us, it's like, Torian," Evans said regarding Graham's performance. 

Graham, a four-star recruit in the 2011 class, sat the 2015-16 season out last year after transferring from the University of Buffalo and Chipola Junior College. He scored 23 points in 21 minutes in ASU’s exhibition game to start the season against the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.

"He's just made a lot of changes," Hurley said. "Very small changes, but he is taking this very seriously. He's using all of his abilities and has been very coachable and he knows what's at stake and it's nice when it clicks for a guy that puts the work in like he has put the work in and I think there is more for him." 

Graham was playing his first meaningful minutes in two years. Graham said the last time he played was March 8, 2014. 

"I feel like I was put on this Earth to play basketball and basically when basketball was taken away form me I felt like a part of my life was taken," Graham said. 

In addition to Graham, ASU got big-time minutes from Evans and Holder, who combined for 42 points. Holder had 23 points and was 7-of-14 from the field, while Evans had 19 points and was 8-of-18 shooting from the field. Last year, Holder averaged 14.2 points per game for the 2015-16 season while Evans redshirted the year after transferring to ASU from the University of Buffalo. 

"Shannon, I think he's going to play a lot better," Hurley said. "He picked it up in the second half, but he would probably agree it wasn't his best. I thought Tra was good tonight too, just getting into the lane." 

ASU freshman guard Sam Cunliffe was a non-factor in his season debut for the Sun Devils, finishing with three points and four fouls in 14 minutes of action. Cunliffe was a four-star recruit coming out of Rainer Beach High School in Seattle, Washington. He is the highest rated recruit on ASU's current roster. 

"He was in foul trouble in his first college game and it just felt like he was a freshman and things like that, but Sam is another player who is going to be great," Evans said. "He's really good. 6-foot-7, he can really shoot it, can guard the four, he can put it on the floor." 

In the first half, ASU was shooting 48.6 percent, 18-of-37 from the field and was 4-of-14 from three-point range. PSU shot 32.3 percent from the field and was 3-of-15 from behind the arc. 

Junior forward Braxton Tucker was the scoring leader for the Vikings, with 19 points on the game.

PSU senior guard Calean Robinson had nine points, five turnovers, two rebounds and one assist in 33 minutes of action. Robinson originally signed and played with ASU in 2013-14 and averaged 1.6 points per game and 1.1 assists per game. Robinson was third on the Vikings’ roster in scoring last year, averaging 10.2 points per game. 

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