By Cammeron Neely
A somber coach Herb Sendek sat down to take questions in his routine post-game press conference Wednesday night, as it could be seen in his face that he was sufficiently disappointed in his teams play against Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
“If you play like we did you’re very vulnerable to not winning,” he said. Although the game’s result was a 67-54 win, Sendek was clearly not enthusiastic at the big picture of the game.
That “big picture” included a slow start by Arizona State, and its continuation late into the first half and early into the second. The slow pace stung, especially after an encouraging, hard-fought win against Arkansas and their loss versus no. 14 ranked Creighton, where ASU stayed within a few baskets of the Bluejays up until a few minutes left in the contest.
As the UAPB Golden Lions played a 2-3 zone against ASU, the Sun Devils made a concentrated effort in the first half to not settle for threes, pass the ball around, and get penetration into the paint. However, once the ball was down low, the Sun Devils could not seem to finish, shooting seven of 23 from the field in the first 20 minutes of play.
Coming out of the locker room in the second half, the team was definitely looking to extend a discouraging two-point lead on UAPB. The biggest advocate of the Sun Devils’ charge to a double-digit victory was Carrick Felix, with the help of Jonathan Gilling.
Felix who registered 24 points against Arkansas last weekend, scored another 20 points against UAPB: points that came as Felix pick and chose his spots. Sometimes he went up strong to the hoop and other times he launched a shot from downtown.
Felix said his approach to the game was “playing slow, waiting for things to come to me.” That approach was evident as the senior forward led ASU with composure throughout the battle.
Gilling also caught fire, scoring 13 points and shooting 3-7 from three-point range. Left open too many times by the UAPB zone, Gilling ran up and down the baseline looking for the ball in the corner all through the second half.
It was a win that had many areas in which the Sun Devils can improve, and coach Sendek was looking ahead to a tough matchup (as he referred to it) against Sacramento State. A game where Sendek knows ASU cannot afford another slow start.
Slow starts have plagued Arizona State through all six games. While Sendek seems grateful for the resiliency of his squad to put away teams that have stuck around late in basketball games, he offered words of caution as the long season progresses.
“You constantly have to replenish yourself mentally and physically and be up again. And if you can’t, then you are at much greater risk of not performing well,” Sendek said.
With the first month of the season behind them and a 5-1 record in the books, ASU has seen some below-average performances to which their coach is referring. In games where one player hasn’t performed up to par, other members of the team have stepped up.
Against UAPB, star freshman Jahii Carson did not have the offensive explosion he’s been producing recently, with nine points. However, teammates Felix and Gilling picked up the slack in the scoring department, and along the way aided Carson to a career-high eight assists.
As one of the leaders of the basketball team, senior Carrick Felix knows there are still plenty places of ASU’s game that can be tightened and rewound. When asked what he thought the Sun Devils could most improve on at this point, Felix answered rebounding and communication.
The senior forward was correct, as UAPB recorded 12 offensive rebounds Wednesday night. Expect Head Coach Herb Sendek to address the problem before the team’s next game.
Arizona State basketball takes on Sacramento State at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday at 6:30. If you cannot make the game, listen in to The Blaze’s live game call, as WCSN’s Ryan Bafaloukos and Alex Gallant will be on the call. Also, stop by CronkiteSports.com for the game’s post-game recap and coverage.