ASU’s 127-point explosion buries The Citadel
TEMPE, Ariz. — A wide-open, run-and-gun style opened up Arizona State's offense, even if the defense had some lapses.
The Sun Devils had six players finish in double figures and their point total tied for the second-highest ever in program history. Freshman Sam Cunliffe had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Kodi Justice scored a season-high 20 points to lead Arizona State to a 127-110 victory over The Citadel on Wednesday.
Justice scored 13 points in the first half, when ASU built a 55-45 lead. Cunliffe scored 16 points in the second half. The Sun Devils (4-2) surpassed 100 points for the first time since 2009.
“Sam looked really smooth out there,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “He looks more and more relaxed and comfortable in what we're doing. He's thrown himself into both ends of the floor.”
Obinna Oleka added 20 points and 15 rebounds and Tra Holder, the team's leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, scored 22.
“You don't come across many teams that play the style that they play and get up and down the way they do,” Hurley said of the Bulldogs (3-3). “It was a good game for us leading into next week in terms of the pace of the game.”
That first opponent next week is No. 1 Kentucky.
“I'm scared to think of how many points they might score on us if we play defense the way we played (Wednesday),” Hurley said.
Arizona State took a 66-52 lead early in the second half, only to see The Citadel go on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to four with 14:01 to play.
The Bulldogs, of the Southern Conference, kept it close for a good portion of the second half but could never take the lead. The Sun Devils pulled away right after the 10-minute mark.
Kaelon Harris came off the bench to lead the Bulldogs with a career-high 30 points and Zane Najdawi tied his career-high with 28 points.
“The greatest thing is we've got nine freshmen. A lot of them got to grow up (Wednesday) and our leading scorer was a freshman,” Citadel coach Duggar Baucom said. “We'll grow from this and try to get better.”
Justice, a part-time starter so far this season, hadn't scored more than eight points in a game this season.
“It's going to be my night one night, it's going to be other guys' nights on other night. So it's not that big a deal to me,” Justice said.
The Citadel: The Bulldogs entered Wednesday averaging 102.4 points per game. They scored over 100 for the fourth time this season but have given up a combined 257 points in back-to-back losses at Iowa State and ASU.
Arizona State: Starting with its next game in the Bahamas, the Sun Devils will play six games in 23 days against teams that have made the NCAA Tournament with regularity in recent years. First up is Kentucky, followed by UNLV, Purdue, San Diego State, New Mexico State and Creighton.
The Sun Devils were hardly in danger of losing, but got one effective minute of action early in the first half from seldom-used post Jethro Tshisumpa. The 6-foot-10 freshman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo blocked three shots and made a layup to give ASU a 22-12 lead at the 13:12 mark of the first half.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Arizona State was 8 of 16 from 3-point range in the first half, 7 of 15 at the free throw line. The Sun Devils turned things around at the line, hitting 21 of 22 free throws in the second half.
A dunk by Shannon Evans off a steal by Cunliffe gave the Sun Devils an 87-76 lead with 9:04 to play, and ASU led by no fewer than eight points the rest of the way.
The Citadel returns home to Charleston, South Carolina for its next five games, starting with Presbyterian on Monday.
Arizona State heads to the Bahamas to face top-ranked Kentucky on Monday. ASU lost at then-No. 5 Kentucky on Dec. 12, 2015, 72-58, and is 0-4 against the Wildcats since 1991.
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- Citadel Bulldogs
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- Kodi Justice
- Obinna Oleka
- Tra Holder