TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) When Bobby Hurley took over as coach at Arizona State earlier this year, he inherited one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the nation.
The Sun Devils showed improvement at the line on Tuesday — and they needed it to avoid a costly home loss.
Tra Holder scored 18 points and hit two free throws with 24.6 seconds left to help Arizona State hold off Stephen F. Austin 80-73 for its third straight win.
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Willie Atwood hit all 10 of his free throws and also scored 18 points. Gerry Blakes added 14 points and a key 3-pointer for the Sun Devils (9-3), who nearly blew a 12-point second-half lead.
Holder and Atwood combined to go 6 for 6 at the foul line in the final minute. Arizona State made 22 of 30 free throws overall to secure its fifth win in six games.
Last season, the Sun Devils shot 66.8 percent from the line, ranking 259th out of 351 Division I teams.
''Free throws have been a big priority,'' said Atwood, whose club is at 70.9 percent this season. ''Coach really makes up shoot a lot of free throws at the end of practice and makes us focus on them. If we miss, we've got to run.
''If it wasn't for those free throws everybody hit, it probably would have been an overtime game or maybe we would have lost.''
Clide Geffrard scored 20 points for the Lumberjacks (7-4), and his three-point play with 1:06 left cut the deficit to 73-70.
SFA got the ball back, but Trey Pinkney missed a running layup. Holder was then fouled and hit both free throws.
Atwood and Geffrard were assessed technical fouls and a Stephen F. Austin bench player was ejected following a brief scuffle in the closing seconds.
''They never give up. They're scrappy,'' Atwood said of SFA. ''They're going to foul you, and they're all up into you the whole game.''
Thomas Walkup added 18 points and Demetrious Floyd scored 13 for the Lumberjacks, who fell to 1-10 against Pac-12 schools.
''It's remarkable the job that Bobby Hurley has done in one year's time turning a team that wasn't very tough into a team that is pretty tough,'' Lumberjacks coach Brad Underwood said.
Stephen F. Austin entered on a five-game winning streak and was hardly intimidated, with four starters returning from last season's team that narrowly lost to Utah in the NCAA tournament. A year earlier, the Southland Conference school won 32 games and upset Virginia Commonwealth in the NCAAs.
Playing in front of a sleepy and small mid-week afternoon crowd, the Lumberjacks used their gambling defense and Geffrard's 4-of-8 shooting from 3-point range in the first half kept it close early.
Holder's three-point play, 3-pointer and reverse layup to start the second half put Arizona State ahead 50-38. But SFA responded, pounding it inside to Walkup as it cut the lead to 65-62 on T.J. Holyfield's layup with 5:27 left.
Blake's 3-pointer with 3:09 left put Arizona State ahead 70-62 before the Lumberjacks' final spurt.
''I thought our kids really fought and got some clean looks,'' Underwood said. ''We just didn't make them when we normally make them.''
Stephen F. Austin: The Lumberjacks forced 17 turnovers. They entered having forced 20 or more in five straight games. . SFA had been 17-0 in December in Underwood's three seasons. . The Lumberjacks lost their previous meeting to Arizona State 92-61 in the 2001-02 season.
Arizona State: It was the second straight game against the Southland Conference. The Sun Devils beat Houston Baptist 98-79 on Saturday. . The Sun Devils took 19 more free throws than SFA.
HURLEY LEAVES ABRUPTLY
A somber Hurley was seen leaving the arena shortly after the game. He didn't address reporters and was tending to a family matter, a school spokesman said.
Savon Goodman, the Sun Devils' second-leading scorer at 12.4 points a game, missed his third straight game for what the school is calling ''personal reasons.''
Stephen F. Austin: Dec. 29 at UAB.
Arizona State: Home Monday vs. Cal State Bakersfield.