With a record-setting 13 Arizona State three-pointers in the first half, it was only fitting ASU's last three-pointer of the half was anything but routine.
From ASU junior guard Kodi Justice falling down as he released his shot, to the ball hitting off the backboard and rolling around the rim until finally dropping through, it appeared everything was falling for the Sun Devils Saturday night against UNLV.
With the flurry of three-pointers, the Sun Devils (5-3) snapped UNLV’s two-game win streak Saturday night in their 97-73 win at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday night. The Sun Devils improved to 4-0 at home this season and 62-14 at Wells Fargo Arena over the last five years.
It was a performance ASU head coach Bobby Hurley had almost predicted, saying earlier in the season he thought his team was capable of making 20 three-pointers in a game. By the time the final buzzer went off Saturday night, ASU made 18, tying its school record for three-pointers in a game and breaking the record for three-pointers in a half with 13.
"I knew we could potentially have these types of shooting games with the our four guards out there and guys are capable of knocking down shots and we made the extra pass tonight which was nice," Hurley said. "18 assists was a really good number so we moved the ball well."
The last time ASU scored 18 three-pointers in a game was against San Francisco on Nov. 20, 2009.
UNLV (5-3) was picked No. 8 out of 11 teams in the Mountain West preseason media poll. Under first-year coach Marvin Menzies, who had previously spent nine years at New Mexico State, UNLV won its first road game of the season on Wednesday at Southern Utah 89-81 after playing its first six games at the Thomas & Mack Center. Last season, the Runnin’ Rebels had a 2-10 record on the road.
ASU is now 6-2 against UNLV. The Sun Devils had to win three come-from behind games in each of the past three seasons for the Sun Devils, but on Saturday night, ASU took control early.
Returning home after getting dominated by No.1 Kentucky 115-69 at Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas, the Sun Devils jumped out to a dominating 20-2 run over UNLV after trailing by four points early in the game.
"You wonder about the psyche of the team, the confidence of a team after something like that," Hurley said. "But we practiced real hard and guys got a lot of pride."
Over the course of the five-minute run, the Sun Devils were 6-of-7 from three-point range, with senior guard Torian Graham leading ASU with three. Graham finished the first half 4-of-7 from three-point range and finished the game with 22 points. Graham was 0-of-6 from three-point range in ASU's last game against Kentucky.
"When I find open shots I just take it," Graham said. "Tonight, everybody had it going. It didn't matter who shot it. We just tried to pass the ball around."
However, ASU made just 4-of-12 two-pointers in the half, therefore keeping the game closer than it should have been.
ASU didn’t score its first two-pointer until ASU freshman guard Sam Cunliffe nailed a pull back jumper with 9:20 remaining in the first half to give ASU a 25-15 lead. The Sun Devils went into halftime leading 51-32 and didn't let off the gas pedal.
Five ASU players came into Saturday’s game against UNLV averaging 10 or more points per game. ASU junior guard Tra Holder had been leading ASU in scoring, averaging 17.1 points per game. Against the Runnin’ Rebels, Holder had 11 points in the first half, but also had three fouls. Holder finished the game with 20 points. ASU guard Shannon Evans scored a team-high 28 points.
"I was just trying to take what was there and there was a lot of gaps to attack," Holder said.
Foul trouble looked to be a big issue early with Obinna Oleka picking up two quick fouls with only 17:36 remaining in the first half. ASU freshman forward Jethro Tshisumpa _ averaging only 4.4 minutes of action _ was inserted into the ball game by Hurley. Tshisumpa then picked up two fouls and ended the first half with zero points, but did have two blocks. Tshisumpa fouled out of the game with 7:50 left in the second half.
Despite the troubles down low early _ only six points in the paint in the first half _ the Sun Devils were riding high with their record-setting three-point play. On defense, ASU had given up two back-to-back 100-point games _ against Citadel and Kentucky _ but held UNLV to 32 first half points and 73 overall in the game.
"Probably the most important win of the season," Graham said. "We were all in a dark place last week so it was good to just get out of that dark place," Graham said.
Evans said Hurley was very focused on defense during practices leading up to UNLV and Evans said ASU barely shot the ball at all.
"I thought we might struggle some early in the game on offense," Hurley said. "I felt that the guys would perform and outwork our opponent defensively. It was nice to see our guys making shots in addition to playing the defense we played in the first half."
Coming into Saturday’s game, UNLV sophomore guard Jalen Poyser led the team in scoring with 17.1 points per game. Poyser finished 6-of-12 with 20 points against ASU, 11 of those points coming in the first half.
ASU's next game will take place on the road in New York to play No. 15 Purdue on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic.