Red Wolves open with 81-55 victory

Arkansas State's Desi Sills dunks during the first half of Tuesday's game against Harding at First National Bank Arena. Sills scored 21 points in his ASU debut as the Red Wolves won 81-55.

JONESBORO — Arkansas State didn't need to shoot a high percentage from the 3-point line to win comfortably on opening night.

The Red Wolves dominated other aspects of Tuesday night's game to rout Harding 81-55. Junior guard Desi Sills scored 21 points in his ASU debut, while second-year freshman forward Norchad Omier recorded his 16th career double-double in the season opener.

Fifth-year ASU coach Mike Balado said the Red Wolves met all their defensive goals against the Bisons.

"I went in the scouting report and I told them three things defensively that we need to do to win the game. Number one, we have to guard the 3, because they're such a prolific 3-point shooting team. We had to keep them under nine and they were 6-for-21," Balado said. "We had to keep them under 40 percent field goals, because if they're shooting a lot of 3s and we're guarding it, then the percentage is going to go down because we're OK with them shooting tough twos. We did a good job of that, they shot 35 percent.

"The last one is we have to get above our 35 deflections. When you play a team that's a motion team, you have to disrupt them somehow, so the pressure has to be picked up above the 3-point line and we had to get at least 35 deflections to offset their rhythm because they're really good when they pass the ball with no touches, and we got 43. When you hit all those goals defensively, chances are you're in pretty good shape."

Defense led to offense as ASU came up with 12 steals and scored 26 points off 20 Harding turnovers. The Red Wolves also took better care of the basketball than they did in a narrow exhibition victory over Blue Mountain College, committing just 13 turnovers.

Sills, a transfer from Arkansas who missed the exhibition game after suffering a leg injury in a scrimmage, was 7-of-12 from the field and 6-of-6 from the free throw line in 20 minutes of playing time. He scored 16 points in the first half to help the Red Wolves build a 40-25 lead.

"It was a wonderful feeling to come back home in Jonesboro, because I'm from here, and play with the guys," said Sills, a former Jonesboro High School standout. "Norchad played amazing. We didn't shoot as well as we wanted to, but no excuses."

ASU ranked 12th nationally in 3-point percentage last season at 38.1 percent, but the Red Wolves were just 3-for-16 outside the arc in the opener. They were 0-for-9 from the 3-point line in the first half and Balado said every attempt but one was a good shot.

Omier, the preseason Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. Senior guard Marquis Eaton, who joined Omier on the preseason All-SBC team, scored 10 points while playing a team-high 25 minutes.

Despite not shooting well from the perimeter, the Red Wolves' overall field goal percentage was 43.9 percent and they were 20-of-21 from the free throw line.

"We got to the foul line, we made our free throws," Balado said. "We took good shots, we really did. Maybe a couple were forced, but we got good looks. Next time they'll go in."

Balado was concerned about 3-point defense after ASU's exhibition game and a closed scrimmage with Tennessee-Martin, but the Red Wolves were all over the arc against the Bisons. Harding was just 1-of-9 from the 3-point line in the first half.

Sills said the Red Wolves are buying into what Balado expects defensively.

"He emphasized the 3-point line, so we put a hand in an eyeball and stuff like that to get them off the 3-point line," Sills said. "He said if they have more than 10 3s, it's going to be a game. If they have less than 10 3s, it's not going to be a game."

Guard Stetson Smithson scored 14 points to lead Harding, which kept the game close for the first 11 minutes. ASU went on a 10-2 run to push its lead to double figures, 27-17, with 6:51 left in the half on two free throws by Sills.

The 15-point halftime margin matched ASU's largest of the half. The Red Wolves scored the first five points of the second half, Eaton scoring from 17 feet and Sills drilling ASU's first 3, to take a 20-point lead at 45-25.

ASU, which visits 11th-ranked Illinois on Friday night, eventually led by as many as 27 points.

Scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Tuesday's game didn't start until almost 8:45. ASU's volleyball team rallied to defeat Arkansas-Little Rock in a five-set match that didn't end until about 7:20. The baskets had to be put in place and the teams given time to warm up before tipoff.

Balado said the Red Wolves were bouncing around the locker room as they waited to play.

"It was almost like I needed to calm them down," Balado said. "I went in with a different approach, I didn't talk too long. I could look at them and tell they were ready to play. They were just anxious to play."