TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Arizona State jumped out to a big lead behind its balanced scoring, only to allow a ranked opponent to claw its way back into reach.
Instead of wilting, these feisty Sun Devils pushed back, looking a lot like their first-year coach.
Willie Atwood had 15 points, Tra Holder added 13 and Arizona State picked up its first marquee win under Bobby Hurley by holding off No. 18 Texas A&M 67-54 on Saturday night.
“Certainly, it’s a win that kind of sends a message that we’re getting close with what we’re trying to do,” Hurley said.
Arizona State (6-2) had some solid wins to start the season and passed its first big test by beating the Aggies, the third ranked nonconference team to play at Wells Fargo Arena in 32 years.
The Sun Devils didn’t shoot particularly well, hitting 36 percent from the floor, but made 10 3-pointers. The Sun Devils took control with a big spurt in the first half and had the lead up to 25 early in the second before Texas A&M started clawing back.
Arizona State held its ground, with Holder hitting a big jumper after the Aggies cut the lead to eight, allowing the Sun Devils to back up a tough road win with an even bigger victory.
“We just wanted to send another message that we’re for real,” said Arizona State guard Gerry Blakes, who had 11 points and six rebounds.
Texas A&M (7-2) never gave itself much of a shot, digging a big early hole and shooting poorly most of the night.
The Aggies struggled against Arizona State’s aggressive defense and missed many of the open shots they had, finishing 31 percent from the floor, including 6 for 26 from 3-point range.
Danuel House had 17 points and Alex Caruso added 15 to lead Texas A&M.
“Offensively, when we had an opportunity to score, we didn’t score,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “They ran offense and hit some big 3s and we didn’t.”
The Aggies played three games away from College Station early in the season, beating Texas and Gonzaga before losing to Syracuse in the championship game of the Battle4Atlantis in the Bahamas.
This trip to the desert was their first true road game and they were facing a Sun Devils team that has been a little better than expected in Hurley’s first season.
Arizona State was coming off consecutive close victories – the last one on the road against Creighton – and returned home with loads of confidence.
Though they didn’t shoot particularly well in the first half, the Sun Devils had one stretch early where everything seemed to be going in, using a 17-2 run to build an early 14-point lead.
Arizona State went back to struggling after its spurt, hitting 10 of 28 shots in the half.
The Sun Devils led by 14 because the Aggies were much worse.
Texas A&M made 3 of 17 from 3-point range in a victory over Florida Gulf Coast in its last game and continued to clang away against Arizona State. The Aggies shot 6 of 27 in the opening half, making 2 of 11 from 3-point range.
It somehow got worse to start the second half.
Texas A&M had three turnovers and three missed shots to open the half, needing nearly four minutes to score. Arizona State took advantage of the Aggies’ eight fouls in the first 3 1/2 minutes, pushing the lead to 42-19.
Arizona State built the lead to 25 before Texas A&M pushed back, using extended defensive pressure to spark an 11-0 run and get within 49-35.
The Aggies continued to give the Sun Devils trouble with their pressure and cut the lead to 62-54 before Holder hit a runner in the lane to put it away.
“We’re not a catch-up team,” Kennedy said. “That’s not what we work on a lot and we don’t play a lot of zone. They hit some big 3s in the first half and never really could get back in it.”
Arizona State has been good from the free-throw line recently and continued it against the Aggies. The Sun Devils went 17 of 24 from the line after hitting 74 percent the previous six games. Texas A&M was 10 of 21 on free throws.
Texas A&M: The Aggies had a 16-11 advantage in offensive rebounds, but were outscored 17-7 by Arizona State on second-chance points. … Caruso had four assists.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils also scored 22 points off Texas AM’s 14 turnovers. … Savon Goodman had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Texas A&M hosts Kansas State next Saturday.
Arizona State plays at No. Kentucky next Saturday.