ASU Basketball: Devils erase 13-point deficit, ride huge second half to win over Vanderbilt

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 10: Tra Holder /

The game that clinched the 10-0 record, the best start in school history, didn’t see No. 5 ASU basketball quite come out of the gates the way it wanted to. But then again, the best start in school history hasn’t been filled with many great starts.

Down 13-0 just five minutes into the game, the guards that encompass the “Guard U” moniker were cold as ice. It looked as if the Commodores had locked in on the target painted right on the backs of ASU.

But, even before that target could be associated with the Devils, though, they still overcame what looked to be plaguing slow starts.

A little over eight minutes after ASU found themselves in a nine-point shortfall early in the second half against Kansas State, it jumped to a seven-point lead that it would never lose. A similar script played out two days later against Xavier – with 3:16 left in the first half, ASU trailed by 15 — but a combined 15 points from guards Tra Holder and Remy Martin to close out the period cut the halftime deficit to just two – a deficit that would be extinguished for good just three and a half minutes later.

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Against Kansas, the early 15-2 Kansas lead was cut to just three at the break. The momentum carried them from the locker room and the Devils exploded to a 31-14 run out of the gates and never looked back.

And of course, Sunday against Vanderbilt. It took the red-hot Devils over five minutes to score a single point, and with just over five minutes remaining in the first half, they still found themselves down 10.

“In earlier games, I think we’ve proven that when we stick through it, we start making shots in the end,” Holder said. “I think we were just a little rusty, we had a long week off, hard practices, but we got back to our groove.”

Holder, who led all scorers with 25 points, calls it a groove, others may refer to it as a burst. But, regardless of what terminology is associated with what almost feels like the Sun Devils M.O. at this point in the season, deficits turn into a lead very quickly for ASU.

In the final five minutes of the half, Arizona State went on a 16-5 run. Led by Holder’s seven points in that stretch, including the final basket of the half as he let the clock run out, waiting for a Mickey Mitchell screen so he could bury a three, ASU had a one-point lead.

“The way we closed with a fury in that first half carried into the locker room and helped our physique,” Head coach Bobby Hurley said. “Because we just couldn’t get anything going for like the first 12 or 13 minutes and you could see the guys were getting frustrated because we’ve never played that way on offense yet, but they persevered through that.”

ASU doesn’t panic in the face of adversity — or deficits. They stay calm and keep shooting, knowing that the shots eventually will fall.

“We weren’t hitting shots at first, but we’re not the team that just because we’re missing some shots that’s going to lay down and just quit the rest of the game,” Mitchell, who in his second game for ASU pulled down 13 rebounds, said, “That’s not who we are. We showed that shots are going to go in regardless, we just have to keep going and find other ways to score.

For Mitchell and the rest of the team, that came on defense.

Vanderbilt runs their offense from behind the 3-point line, passing the ball around the arc. In doing so, they occasionally toss or soft pass or take one too many dribbles, leading to steals like the four combined from Mitchell and Holder and ultimately fast break points.

As the steals started coming and Martin’s tenacious defense started to force the Commodore guards into fouls and turnovers, ASU started to cruise and their shots started to fall.

“I just kind of know how we play offense and that eventually if we just start chipping away at the lead that we’re going to go on a run that we typically go on,” Hurley said.

The runs that have propelled the Devils to victory have come quick. In about seven minutes, they turned their one-point halftime lead into 20 en route to a 76-64 win.

Arizona State got to the basket at will in that stretch, not relying on 3-pointers to give them the comfortable lead that they seem to finish every game with.

“We felt that we were getting wide open shots and great looks, layups, stuff like that,” Holder said. “So, we stayed with it and coach kept preaching to keep going at it.”

Another thing they kept going at was 6-foot-8 foreword Romello White. The big man seemed primed to dominate a Vanderbilt team whose tallest starter was 6-foot-7, but the Commodores employed a deadly double-team that White couldn’t counter early.

At the half, he had six points and seven rebounds, but as the double-teams started to get on him, he began creating empty possessions for ASU to the tune of four first half turnovers.

“We’ll work on some things to make sure that what was going on with the doubles doesn’t happen,” Hurley said. “We were at fault there just for how we attacked throwing the ball into the post. Melo was catching it with a help defender in his lap already.”

The Devils’ ability to make adjustments mid-game and flip the switch is truly something to marvel at, but as far as the non-conference slate goes, they hope Sunday was the last time they’ll need to.

Next: ASU Basketball: Sun Devil guards sacrificing for each other

ASU has two more games before they’ll start Pac-12 play, going up against Longwood on Tuesday and Pacific on Friday — all leading up to their Pac-12 opener in Tucson against Arizona on Dec. 30.

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.