While the late Celtics coach was accurate in his statement, the Arizona State men’s basketball head coach Bobby Hurley showed that height doesn’t always equate to wins in a 88-70 victory over Portland State.
The former Duke standout often went with a lineup of four guards and a big man, spacing the floor against a taller Portland State team.
“I think we are a work in progress. We are still finding ourselves and guys are getting accustomed to playing different positions,” Hurley said.
Hurley opened the game with a starting five of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans II, Kodi Justice, Sam Cunliffe and Obinna Oleka. Aside from a quiet night from Cunliffe due to early foul trouble, the other four ASU starters each played over 30 minutes.
Much like the exhibition against UC-Santa Cruz, guard Torian Graham came off the bench to provide instant offense in high volume, finishing with 23 points on 9-11 shooting, notably knocking down five three-pointers.
“I wouldn’t say I was nervous, but when I got in I just wanted to touch the ball and get it over with,” guard Torian Graham said, “When I come off the bench I can see the flow of the game.”
The veteran trio of Holder, Evans II and Graham proved to be a difficult task to handle on both ends of the floor as the three guards combined for 65 of ASU’s 88 points and disrupted Portland State’s rhythm, forcing four steals and not giving up many open shots.
“To you guys [the media] that was probably like ‘wow’ but for us that’s just Torian [Graham],” guard Shannon Evans said
A slow start briefly affected the Sun Devils in a 0-4 start from the field and an early 8-2 deficit. Their struggles vanished when Justice hit a jumper with 12:31 left in the first half to give ASU a 11-10 lead, a lead that would quickly grow into a 14-point halftime margin before running away in the second half.
“I was never worried. I knew they were good shots and the ball just wasn’t bouncing in,” Hurley said.
For Cunliffe and fellow four-star recruit Jethro Tshisumpa, the transition in their first collegiate game was not seamless but the tight-knit feel of this team left the veterans feeling optimistic.
Tshisumpa only played eight minutes but caught the attention of many with a vicious swat late in the second half, particularly that of Evans.
“Jethro is seriously like a little kid. I live with him and he is like my little-big brother,” Evans said, “He gets better every day.”
Cunliffe picked up two quick fouls before heading to the bench for the first half, he picked up a third minutes into the second half and scored his first career basket shortly after.
“A freshman as talented as Sam might put their head down after a bad game,” Holder said. “He has a positive spirit and knows that he’s going to get his time.”
ASU improved to 1-0 on the season following a convincing win over the Vikings. The Sun Devils will now have a day off as they prepare to play Cal Poly on Sunday. Tip off for that game is 7 p.m.