Rising Sun Devils blitz Oregon State
TEMPE, Ariz. — It took time, as Arizona State coaches warned that it would because of the influx of new talent, But the Sun Devils appear to have found their identity, just as the conference play nears the midpoint.
It showed in a variety of ways in Wednesday’s 73-55 victory over Oregon State at Wells Fargo Arena.
The Sun Devils made the extra pass, which led to easier looks from the perimeter. They knocked down nine 3-pointers, eight in the first half, when they took Oregon State out of its zone defense and took control of the game by opening a 20-point lead.
Freshman point guard Tra Holder looks to be gaining confidence by the week as his role expands. It is just in time, now that fellow freshman Kodi Justice is to miss the rest of the season after he suffered a broken left foot against last week.
With the 3-point shooting opening lanes to the basket, Shaqueille McKissic aggressively took the ball to the hoop against Oregon State — his slashing style is something that serves the Sun Devils best.
McKissic had a team-high 17 points thanks for 7-for-7 shooting at the foul line, as the Sun Devils (11-10, 3-5 Pac-12) won for the third time in four games.
"We’ve gotten better this month," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "We are improving as a team. What that means in terms our outcome, that’s why we play the game. We still have to get a lot better."
Gerry Blakes had 12 points, Bo Barnes 11, Holder 10 and Jonathan Gilling added nine as the Sun Devils scored the most points against Oregon State (14-6, 5-3) this season. Barnes and Gilling made three 3s apiece, Holder had two and Blakes one.
"Any time there is a zone, you are looking to shoot it down," Gilling said. "We’re getting better, definitely. We are doing a good job of sharing the ball more. Just share the ball and play basketball the way it should be played."
McKissic is better when the perimeter game is, too. In the Sun Devils’ 57-49 loss at Oregon State on Jan. 8, they were 4 of 21 on 3-point shots.
"Jon and Bo get me a lot of layups," McKissic said. "They (the defense) can’t help off them. That’s the beauty when guys are making shots."
Oregon State, which was led by Gary Payton II’s 23 points, had not allowed more than 56 points in any of its previous six games, a streak that began with its 57-49 victory over ASU on Jan. 8, when the Sun Devils shot 39.5 percent from the field.
The Beavers entered the rematch tied with Virginia and Wichita State for the longest streak in Division I of allowing 56 points or fewer, and included was their 58-56 victory over then-No. 7 Arizona on Jan.11. ASU scored 40 in the first half.
"They did what we’ve been doing for a large part of the season — they set the tone," Oregon State coach Wayne Tinkle said. "They took it to us, they shot it in on us, they pushed it on us. They hit some shots and all of a sudden we’re not communicating in man or zone and it snowballed."
The Sun Devils made their intentions known early. Although Blakes’ 3 on their first possession was off, things changed quickly. ASU made its next five 3s — Holder, Holder, Gilling, Barnes, Gilling — as part of an 18-3 run for a 21-7 lead.
The Beavers finally said uncle and switched from their 2-3 zone to man to man. But nothing really helped. McKissic made a conventional three-point play for a 30-16 lead, and Blakes and Barnes hit 3s to make it 38-18 with 3:23 left in the first half. It was 40-23 at halftime, the Sun Devils seven short of their game total in the first meeting.
Holder had four assists, four turnovers and a steal in 31 minutes, his first game without Justice, who had a career-high 16 points in the 79-44 victory over California last Thursday.
"I think he is really learning how to work," Sendek said of the reason for Holder’s continued maturation in the college game. "He is putting in extra time after practice. His confidence is growing. He is getting more comfortable. I think his improvement has been amazing through them month of January."
McKissic has seen Holder’s confidence rise, too.
"He wants to make everybody better," McKissic said. "When you play selfless, a lot can happen. That’s just something you have to mature into. Kodi being out for the season is a huge blow for us, especially on the perimeter and the 3-point shot, Tra really stepped up tonight."
Selflessness seems to be a defining trait as players learn each other and roles become more defined.
"Definitely. When you see guys making shots, you get excited for them," McKissic said. "You want to see how many they can make in a row. It happens in practice all the time. It’s been happening for us as of late in games."