TEMPE — Arizona State’s brief hiatus from conference play for four games started with an impressive 67-62 win over Grand Canyon on Thursday.
As always, whenever you’ve got a lively opposing fanbase, it creates a good environment. That was the case at Desert Financial Arena, with the Lopes’ Havocs student section of a few hundred keeping the arena engaged throughout and it was rewarded with an entertaining game.
The story of the night was ASU’s activity level. It really needed to match what was coming from Grand Canyon, who entered the night top-25 in the country for rebounding. That came to fruition through 20 offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points for the Lopes.
But ASU canceled that out because it was 26-of-28 at the foul line compared to 8-of-13 for GCU.
The Sun Devils (4-6) were in control throughout most of the evening, albeit against a GCU (8-2) team that wouldn’t go away. ASU kept a healthy lead because of an engaged defense, even though the Lopes created enough open shots to be in a good spot. Those weren’t going down, and ASU scored just enough on offense to be up nine at the half.
Grand Canyon’s guards were great with its dribble penetration. Seniors Jovan Blacksher Jr. and former Sun Devil Holland Woods were both dribbling with purpose, finding space in the defense and setting up passes to teammates.
That difference in the two teams had the Lopes generating the higher quality of looks but the problem was they couldn’t make ’em.
For a brief stretch, however, they went in. The Lopes began the second half with a 5-0 run, and after a good response from ASU, another 12-2 spurt came that made it a one-point game.
That was all Grand Canyon had offensively, though. More so, all it had against the Sun Devils’ consistent efforts defensively.
ASU had 13 blocks, which ties a school record, and really highlighted the athleticism and length disparity between the two programs. Woods (6-foot-1) and Blacksher (5-foot-11) have generous listings for their height and their persistence for getting in the paint was often greeted by a rejection from a larger defender.
They stuck with it, though, and if it wasn’t for the Sun Devils’ energy matching GCU’s, it would have been a fairly comfortable win for the Lopes.
Grand Canyon shot 31.5% from the field and 8-of-32 (25.0%) on 3s. ASU was actually a little worse at 31.1% overall and 3-for-20 (15.0%) from deep.
Sun Devils senior forward Kimani Lawrence had 14 points and 14 rebounds while sophomore guard D.J. Horne added 14 points of his own.
Woods (20 points) and Blacksher (18) had over half of Grand Canyon’s 62 points and Lopes players not named Holland or Jovan shot 9-for-38 (23.7%).
It’s a nice victory for Arizona State after a worrisome 51-29 loss at home to Washington State a week prior marked five straight defeats and really began the wonder of if it was going to be a rough year in Tempe.
Senior guard Marreon Jackson said at the time the performance wasn’t like them, an outing he didn’t see a trace of in any practices or workouts in the summer.
Thursday marked two straight good wins that trend more in the direction of the team Jackson was talking about after the Sun Devils beat Oregon on the road on Sunday. That’s a game Lawrence called a turning point in the season.
It sounds like there is some much-needed positive momentum there to build off as conference play really gets kicking at the end of the calendar year.
“It was gonna happen eventually,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t think we were going to keep losing the way we were losing … it’s definitely important to get some momentum going into conference play.”