DJ Horne had 20 points and Arizona State raced to a big halftime lead and finished with the highest point total in a First Four game, burying Nevada 98-73 on Wednesday night.
Arizona State (23-12) led 53-26 at the half and kept scoring in the second on the way to the rout.
The first-half output was a season high for Arizona State, which advanced as a No. 11 seed to face TCU in a West Region first-round game on Friday in Denver.
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“It was a complete performance for us. You want to be playing this way at this time of year,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “That’s what it’s all about. I truly believe that our schedule and the games we’ve been in, especially late in the season, prepares you for these types of games. And it was across the board, just everyone contributed. Our defense was outstanding in the first half.”
Arizona State hit 67.7% of its shots from the floor and forced 10 turnovers in the first half, putting together a 22-2 run over eight minutes to pull away, meanwhile keeping the defensive pressure on and forcing the Wolf Pack to the perimeter.
“I think when we get off to starts like that, it just feeds on to everybody on the team and builds energy, and I feel like it showed tonight,” Horne said.
The Sun Devils shot a stunning 64% from the floor, much better than their season average of 41.3%. They hit 11 of 21 (52.4%) from 3-point range, with Horne making four of his five tries.
Desmond Cambridge Jr. — a Nevada transfer — had 17 points, Jamiya Neal had 16 and Desmond’s brother, Devan Cambridge, added 15 for Arizona State.
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Will Baker scored 17 and Tre Coleman had 14 for the Wolf Pack (22-11). One of Nevada’s top players, Kenan Blackshear, picked up three fouls early and sat on the bench for more than five minutes of the opening half. Averaging 14.4 per game through the season, he was held to four points in this one.
“You’ve got to give Arizona State credit,” Nevada coach Steve Alford said. “I’ve watched a bucket load of games on them, and I thought that’s as well as they’ve played all year. That’s a great credit to them, because if you can play some of your best basketball in March, that’s really, really good.”
Both teams appeared in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2019. The Sun Devils beat St. Johns in the First Four that season, but lost in the round of 64.
Nevada: The Wolf Pack shot better in the second half (60.7% compared with 33.3% in the first) but couldn’t climb out of the hole Arizona State put them in early. Nevada couldn’t get closer than 19 points after halftime.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils forced 11 turnovers and kept the pressure on in the second half after Nevada was already crushed. They were 11 for 21 (52.4%) from beyond the 3-point line.
“We already play good defense, so that’s what we hang our hats on,” Desmond Cambridge Jr. said. “But when our offense is clicking like that, we’re a hard team to stop.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Arizona State has forced double-digit turnovers in 60 of 66 games dating to last season.
DAYTON ON TOP
The University of Dayton Arena has now hosted 133 NCAA Tournament games, more than any other venue in the country. The First Four has been played here since 2011, except for 2020 when the event was canceled because of the pandemic, and 2021, when it was played in the COVID-19 bubble in Indiana.
UD has an agreement to host the First Four through 2026. There is discussion aimed at expanding the March Madness field beyond its current 68 schools, but the situation is still too speculative to foresee what it might mean for the Dayton event.
The First Four is one of the most important events of the year for the city, with an estimated economic benefit to the region of more than $5 million and national TV exposure for the medium-sized city that’s often overshadowed by nearby Columbus and Cincinnati.