McKissic leads new-look ASU past Chicago State in opener

ASU freshman guard Tra Holder looks for an open man as Chicago State's Johnny Griffin and Anthony Glover apply defensive pressure.

Joe Camporeale/Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Three J-migos fueled Arizona State last year, and it was good. Jahii Carson controlled the ball, Jordan Bachynski controlled the paint and Jermaine Marshall controlled the 3-point line at crunch time.

It got ASU 21 victories and a spot in the NCAA tournament.

An NCAA tournament return may or may not come this season after wholesale losses. Whatever evolves, it will be not be the result of such a rigid structure.

Coach Herb Sendek said ASU ran one play — one — in its 86-50 victory over Chicago State in the season opener Friday at Wells Fargo Arena, and they ran that play just two or three times. Last year, the ball was in Carson’s hands a disproportionate amount of time.

"This year, the ball is really moving," Sendek said, "and we have a number of guys who can put the ball on the floor as opposed to last year, when we almost exclusively relied on Jahii to do that for us.

"I think it is a fun way to play. The ball moves. On a given possession, it’s likely that everybody is going to touch it. I hope you see our guys have a tremendous amount of freedom, as long as we honor good concepts and principles to attack and make plays. Our guys were playing basketball."

Forward Shaquielle McKissic, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, led the new-look Sun Devils onto the floor before the game and led them with a career-high 20 points in 25 minutes.

He had two 3-pointers, a dunk on a drive form the wing and an assist on guard Gerry Blakes’ 3-pointer during a 13-0 streak that broke the game open midway through the first half. ASU led 40-28 at halftime and pulled away.

ASU 86, Chicago St. 50

Blakes started in place of Bo Barnes and made a good first impression. A scoring point guard who played for former ASU guard Quincy Brewer at San Bernardino (Calif.) Community College last season, Blakes will play only off guard this season, Sendek said, and he did a little bit of everything. He made 4 of 6 field goals to go with seven rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes.

Fellow junior college transfers Willie Atwood and Roosevelt Scott each had 11 points. The power forward Atwood started while the wing Scott came off the bench.

Starting center Eric Jacobsen had eight points and six rebounds.

"Our offense is like a car. We just have to have all the pieces," McKissic said. "If we have all the pieces, it is going to drive. Unselfishness is going to be the key. I don’t feel like anybody went out of their way to look anybody off. A lot of guys in their first Division I start, they will try to get mine, mine, mine. But these guys are trying to find everybody. It is good playing like that. It creates a lot of energy."

Smaller and more athletic, ASU utilized more pressure defense, too. The Sun Devils had seven steals; Blakes had three, and forced 17 turnovers. Seven players had at last seven points, and 10 players went at least 11 minutes.

Blakes started, Sendek said, in an attempt to balance the mix of veterans and newcomers on the floor. Returnees Jacobsen and McKissic started, while veterans Barnes, Jonathan Gilling (seven points) and Chance Murray (seven points) came off the bench.

"As much as any team I’ve ever coached, there is not a lot of separation between guys," Sendek said. "What we tried to do was get some balance between returners and new guys. It wasn’t so much trying to come up with quote the best five to start but try to get a rotation that allowed us on opening night to get a balance between returners and newcomers."

Another newcomer, true freshman Tra Holder, started at point guard as expected. He led ASU with four assists and had three points in 23 minutes. In starting the first game of his career, Holder joined an elite group that includes Byron Scott, Alex Austin, Mario Bennett, Ike Diogu, Ty Abbott, James Harden and Carson.

Holder, the only true point guard on the roster, will succeed Carson, although he will not be the scoring threat Carson was when he entered ASU. Carson led the Sun Devils in scoring and assists the last two seasons before forsaking his final year of eligibility to turn pro last spring.

The game was the first of four in the CBE Classic. Arizona State is one of four host sites, joining Alabama, Iowa State and Maryland. All four host teams will advance to the championship round in Kansas City on Nov. 24-25. ASU is to play Bethune-Cookman in the second round of the CBE Classic on Monday. The Sun Devils will play Maryland in the semifinal game in Kansas City.

The NCAA on Friday announced the selection of the greater Phoenix area as host of the 2017 Men’s Final Four, to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium in nearby Glendale. ASU will serve as host institution of the annual event.

Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter