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Offense outshines defense in ASU win

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This year’s ASU basketball team is a two-sided coin.  One of two teams shows up. Either the group that barely slips by Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Cornell or the team that beats Arkansas and puts up a good fight against Creighton. Thankfully for Sun Devil fans it was the latter that came to play Saturday night at Wells Fargo Arena, and with the help of two new faces, defeated Sacramento State 90-70.

Breakout games by local product Eric Jacobsen and Liberty transfer Eric Gordon helped the Sun Devils to victory. Jacobsen had nine rebounds and six points in 16 minutes off the bench backing up junior big man Jordan Bachynski. “It’s about thinking about where the ball’s going to come off the rim and just going and getting it,” Jacobsen said. As a team ASU dominated on the glass grabbing a total of 47 boards compared to Sacramento State’s 36.

Evan Gordon took advantage of the Hornet’s 2-3 zone hitting five of nine shots from beyond the arc (he was 7-34 coming into the game) and led all scorers with 29 points.  Gordon’s 29 points joins James Harden, Ty Abott, Jeff Pendergraph, and Jahii Carson as players to score at least 29 points in the Herb Sendek era. Gordon started off the year slowly, despite contributing on defense he had yet to get his offense going. “It’s a good feeling me having a couple rough starts and everything but I just tried to stay with it and it just went on from there,” Gordon said.  The team had worked on implementing offense against a zone this past week in practice. “I really was pleased with our ball movement and obviously having Evan shoot the basketball the way he did made a big difference for us,” head coach Herb Sendek said.

Although no ASU big men had a big day in the points column, the Sun Devils fed the post early in possessions which opened up the rest of the floor. Shot fakes and ball reversals by the Sun Devils also helped keep the Hornet’s zone off balance. “I thought all night long our guys shared the ball… when the ball doesn’t stick and it gets reversed the second or third time during the possession we have a much better chance of scoring,” Sendek said. Keeping the zone off balance also helped the team drive and get to the basket, “I thought our guys were aggressive… the tide really turned in the first half when we got (Sacramento State’s) starting backcourt both young men picked up their third foul and that I thought really changed the game in our favor in the first half.”

ASU closed out well on threes in the first half and kept Sac. State’s shooting at bay. Jordan Bachynski had a quiet night but his presence made the Hornets shoot from outside with almost no post presence to speak of. “They’re an outstanding shooting team and we were really concerned with defending them from behind the arc,” Sendek said. However, the Arizona State defense suffered in the second half when both offenses played more run and gun and Sacramento State started playing more man-to man the floor opened up allowing for more open shots for Sacramento State. By the 12-minute mark in the second half ASU had already let up as many points (30) as they did in the whole first half. “I thought for much of the second half our defense wasn’t up to standard,” Sendek said.

Offensively the team put together a full 40 minutes thanks also to Carrick Felix’s 21 points and 12 boards. However defensively I’d give ASU 30 minutes of solid defense, but that’s still 10 less minutes than it should be. Already with six wins it’s clear this is an improved team that only needs to improve consistency. Evan Gordon explained that the team is starting to come together, “We had a lot of low expectations coming into this season and you know we’ve worked hard and game by game we’re starting to form our identity and play together and learning exactly what each other does and we can rely on each other.”

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