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ASU men's basketball 3 and Ds its way to its first conference win

The Sun Devils rode the hot hands in their backcourt

Sophomore guard Kodi Justice makes a layup against Washington State on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Sun Devils defeated the Cougars 84-73.
Sophomore guard Kodi Justice makes a layup against Washington State on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. The Sun Devils defeated the Cougars 84-73.

Every basketball game has a span that tells the story of how a game unfolded, and the ASU men's basketball team's contest against Washington State was no different.

Between the 8:08 and 7:59 marks of the second half, sophomore guard Kodi Justice picked up a steal and unleashed a wicked behind the back pass to senior forward Willie Atwood for a dunk, which was immediately followed by a block for senior forward Eric Jacobsen, giving their team an 11-point lead that would never go away.

The Sun Devils (11-6, 1-3 Pac-12) finished off that 7:59 in convincing fashion, taking down the Cougars 84-73, led by the tremendous play of Justice (16/4/4) and the interior defense (six blocks).

Despite a high-scoring final line, neither team came out of the gate shooting particularly well. ASU relied almost exclusively on junior forward Obinna Oleka, who scored seven of the teams first nine points.

Though the home team started slow, the Cougars fared even worse, suffering a 7:34 scoreless streak. During this spam, they allowed ASU to gain a 14-point lead and every bit of momentum.

Coach Bobby Hurley's squad hasn't got off to the best of starts in conference play, so it was important and encouraging to see that change Thursday.

"It was nice to see us get off to a good start in the game and build a lead in the first half and have them chase us most of the game," Hurley said. "We've been playing from behind too much early in games, so it was great to see that."

During the drought, ASU not only let Washington State miss, but redirected the ball all over the floor with tips and blocks. In all, ASU finished with six blocks on the game, with Jacobsen chipping in with three of his own, tying a season-high mark.

ASU carried the momentum from the 17-0 run into the locker room with a comfortable lead and looking like they had the game in the bag.

Washington State would not give up that easily, though, as junior forward Josh Hawkinson helped spark a quick 7-0 burst to put some pressure on the Sun Devils.

That's when Justice found his stroke.

The sharpshooter from Mesa had one of the best games of his young career, scoring 11 points on 4/8 shooting and notching three assists in the second half alone.

Those shots kept Washington State at arm's length, making the climb uphill to tie or take the lead seemingly insurmountable, especially with the crowd into the game due to the high-flying antics of Justice and backcourt mate sophomore Tra Holder, who led all scorers with 20 points.

Hurley, while happy with the win, still sees room to improve as Pac-12 play moves on, meaning the Sun Devils still have a lot of overhead room until they reach their ceiling this season.

"I think we have a chance to continue to play well and play better," Hurley said. "We're obviously happy to win, but I think there are shots out there that we're capable of making."

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