Originally Published: December 22, 2016 11 p.m.
TEMPE — The ups and downs of the non-conference basketball season helped Arizona State find its identity as a team, and that identity is crystal clear now.
The Sun Devils’ success as Pac-12 Conference play is set to begin will be tied to guard play, especially on offense, and three starting guards came up big in Thursday afternoon’s 98-62 win over Central Arkansas.
Torian Graham 26 points and Shannon Evans II had 22 and the duo combined for 13 of the Sun Devils’ 18 3-pointers in the non-conference wrapup for both teams.
Point guard Tra Holder added 22 points and nine assists and forward Obinna Oleka scored 18 points and grabbed a career high 17 rebounds for the Sun Devils (7-6). Evans had seven treys and eight assists.
“We just have to make that the standard in who we are game in and game out,” ASU coach Bobby Hurley said. “This game, we fought extremely hard and we played hard tip to finish. We want to sustain that and demand that from ourselves.”
The 18 3s tied a school single-game record for Arizona State and the 45 attempts are a season high.
“I don’t think that we would take as many (3s) in a normal game,” Hurley said. “A lot of our 3s did come off dribble penetration, moving the ball around and then hitting an open teammate.”
Central Arkansas (1-12) went 3 for 24 on 3s and shot 38.6 percent overall. Jeff Lowery led the Bears with 15 points, Mathieu Kamba 13 points and 15 rebounds and Jordan Howard had 13 points.
When Holder knocked down ASU’s 12th 3-pointer of the first half with a second to play, the Sun Devils led 51-28. ASU had 16 points off 12 first-half turnovers by Central Arkansas, the Bears committing five in the first five minutes of the game and going scoreless for four minutes.
“We wish that we had done a little bit better in the preseason, but we didn’t,” Bears coach Russ Pennell said. “You do one of two things, you either sit and lament that and you don’t get any better, or you try to scrape it out of your memory and start over.”
The Sun Devils built their lead to 32 points in the second half, 68-36, on a Graham 3 at the 14:02 mark, and led by as much as 37.
“My guys did a good job of shooting the ball. They made it easy for me to penetrate in the lane,” Holder said. “Just thankful to have them on the wings because it was making my job easier.”
Central Arkansas: The Bears will be at home for the next two games - the first two in Southland Conference play - after playing 11 of their 13 non-conference games away from their campus in Conway, Arkansas.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils got through a tough non-conference schedule with a 7-6 record, going 2-4 away from home. Five of their next seven games to start the Pac-12 season are away, including three against current top-25 teams. “I think we all got a lot of positives from it,” Holder said. “We know we prepared ourselves well and we’re going to look forward to the Pac-12 season.”
Pennell spent 15 years coaching in the Phoenix area (1998-2013). He was an Arizona State assistant from 1998-2004 and served as color analyst on radio broadcasts in the 2007-2008 season. ... Three Bears have Phoenix-area ties - starters Howard, Lowery and forward Derreck Brooks. ... The two teams met for the first time ever in basketball. ... Twenty-eight of the 38 shots the Sun Devils took in the first half were 3-point tries.
PLAY OF THE DAY
Kodi Justice stole a pass, dribbled downcourt and lobbed to Graham for a crowd-pleasing dunk, giving Arizona State a 38-20 lead with 4:16 left in the first half.
The Sun Devils have made 18 3-pointers in two games this season but are still one short of the single-game record. “It doesn’t matter as long as we win,” Holder said with a smile. “I heard someone say it (during the game), but I’m not really the guy who shoots all the 3s, so you’re telling the wrong person.”
Central Arkansas: Hosts Sam Houston State in Southland Conference opener on Dec. 31.
Arizona State: At Stanford for Pac-12 opener on Dec. 30.