The Arizona State Sun Devils have now played 12 games, yet something about their most recent game against Texas Tech was strikingly different from the others.
For the first time this season, the Sun Devils played in a true road game in an unfamiliar environment. Yes, Arizona State played two games at a neutral site in Las Vegas, but the challenge of playing in front of a few hundred casual fans did not compare to the atmosphere in Lubbock, Texas.
While Texas Tech is no longer the basketball power a national fan base came to know and love under Bobby Knight’s direction, the Red Raiders still play a difficult Big 12 schedule and have the power conference talent on their roster to match.
In the Sun Devils’ previous three “big” games against Arkansas, Creighton, and DePaul, the maroon and gold saw mixed results. Arizona State kept the Razorbacks off balance all night long en route to a big victory, hung in despite being overmatched against Creighton, and flat out laid an egg against the DePaul Blue Demons.
The Texas Tech game was sure to show a lot about the Sun Devils’ character, and Coach Sendek’s boys did not disappoint. A reappearing theme came about early on in the battle in Lubbock as the Sun Devils opened up firing from beyond the arc. Instead of using 7-2 center Jordan Bachynski’s height as an advantage, Arizona State let Jonathan Gilling take over the game from beyond the arc.
Gilling hit a career-high six three-pointers including three in the first five minutes of the game, and finished with 18 points. Gilling’s hot start was aided by Evan Gordon (12 points) who also contributed to the first half dominance as the Sun Devils took a 42-36 lead into the break.
The Sun Devils looked like a completely different team than the one that took the court against DePaul just a week and a half earlier, and perhaps the five day layoff buoyed the team in its fast start.
While so much appeared changed in the matchup with Texas Tech, one item on the Sun Devils’ agenda stayed consistent. Despite being his first game in a tough atmosphere, despite scoring just two points in the first half, and despite drawing more attention from the national media, Jahii Carson continued to shine.
Throughout the season, Arizona State has ensured that Jahii Carson remained the center of attention, and the wonder-freshman has flourished in the role. Carson already has five 20-point games, including a 30-point outing against Creighton, but the phenom may have played his best half of the season when the Sun Devils needed it most on Saturday.
The Red Raiders posed a difficult challenge and would not seem to go away at any point throughout the second half. After cutting the lead to four points, Arizona State increased the deficit to 15 and appeared ready to cruise to victory. Yet Jaye Crockett (11 points) and Josh Gray (10 points) helped Texas Tech claw back to within seven.
With the Sun Devils in desperate need of an answer, they turned to the player whose second half heroics are largely responsible for Arizona State’s victories this season.
Jahii Carson reeled off 10 points in a row in a variety of ways that left the Red Raiders’ flummoxed as to how to curtail the sneaky guard. Carson hit a three, hit a midrange shot, drove to the bucket for a layup, and added another point from the free throw line in a three-minute stretch that displayed his incredible versatility.
Carson single-handedly thrashed the Red Raiders’ hopes of victory and helped lift the Sun Devils to their first road victory of the season. The win over Texas Tech says a lot about this Arizona State team because the Sun Devils showed that even when the environment changes, even when they face a deep roster, and even when things may not always be the same, they can rely on the consistency of Jahii Carson.
Come Pac-12 play, the Sun Devils will sport a record marked by a double-digit win total, a quality road victory, and one more asset that will have their conference opponents a little more worried this season: Jahii Carson.