ASU Basketball: Rebounding, bench play leads Devils to bounce-back win

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 13: Kodi Justice
TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 13: Kodi Justice /

Key shots down the stretch and consistent bench production powered No. 16 ASU basketball to an 81-73 road victory over the California Golden Bears.

After their loss to the Stanford Cardinal Wednesday night, the Sun Devils found themselves submerged in their greatest test of adversity this season. Their most recent defeat was their fourth in six games, yet the theme of those losses remained the same: size and physicality.

The Sun Devils gave up 13 offensive rebounds and 46 points in the paint that night, with Cardinal forwards Reid Travis and Josh Sharma constantly looking to attack ASU’s lack of size in the starting lineup. The lack of interior presence was a clear problem for the Sun Devils on defense, and it had started to become every team’s plan of attack against them.

Something needed to change.

On Saturday night, that change came, as Bobby Hurley swapped Mickey Mitchell for Vitaliy Shibel in the starting five, giving his team paint presence and solid bench production in a much-needed victory against the California Golden Bears.

After getting bullied on the offensive glass in their last three games, the Sun Devils held a plus-nine margin in the rebounding category Saturday night, including a 9-7 advantage over the Bears on the offensive glass.

With Mitchell coming off of the bench, the Sun Devils were able to take advantage of the depth added to their back-line. With Mitchell, Remy Martin and De’Quon Lake all in the lineup, the Sun Devils were able to score 41 points off the bench, efforts that sparked several runs to keep them ahead throughout the game. 

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Tra Holder, who came in averaging 9.5 points on just 24 percent shooting in his last four games, rebounded to lead the Devils with 13 points on the night, good enough to put him past Byron Scott for seventh place on Arizona State’s all-time scoring list.

Despite leading by as many as 16 points, Cal wouldn’t lay down in front of their home crowd. After going scoreless in the first half, freshman Justice Sueing sparked a 13-5 run for the Bears in the  second half, cutting the Arizona State lead down to single digits with 11:01 to go in the game.

Just a few minutes later, senior Marcus Lee scored in the low-post to bring the ASU lead down to four. With the time ticking down in a close game on the road, the Sun Devils needed to find a spark to close the game down the stretch

Right on cue, Remy Martin darted out in transition to find Shannon Evans for two huge three-pointers in the left corner, shots that prompted Evans to put his finger to his mouth to silence the 6,000+ on hand at Haas Pavilion. A few plays later, Evans dished to Martin for another three in the corner, giving the Sun Devils an 11-point lead and the nail in the coffin for the Bears with four minutes remaining. 

Lee finished with a career high of 23 points and eight rebounds for the Bears in the losing effort.

With the victory, the Sun Devils improve to 15-4 (3-4 Pac-12) on the year, coming back from their loss Wednesday to split their weekly conference match-ups for the third time this season.

Next week, the Devils will return home to Tempe to take on the Mountain schools, where they’ll look for their first conference sweep during Bobby Hurley’s tenure as head coach.

Next: ASU Basketball: 2018 Pac-12 Week 3 Power Rankings

The first game of the week will be Thursday with the Sun Devils taking on the Utah Utes. The game will tip-off at 7:30 p.m. MST and can be viewed on Pac-12 Network.