About 500 fans gathered to get their first glimpse at the new-look, high-tempo Sun Devil men’s basketball team in Wells Fargo Arena Saturday morning which for the first time included the long awaited Jahii Carson.
The team split into maroon and gold and played three 10-minute quarters. Various players switched teams each quarter so a final score would be unjust to both sides, however the team Carson was on won each quarter. He took advantage of numerous ball screens and unofficially finished with 18 points, 1 assist, and 1 rebound. “I definitely feel like a monkey is off my back” said Carson,“ Being out here playing it feels so good.” His three point shooting and driving certainly looked like he was feeling good but he struggled from the free throw line going 0 for 2 by failing to convert “and one” free throws on two separate occasions. The team as a whole however shot 15 of 21, a 71% free throw percentage overall which needs to improve if the Sun Devils want to win close games this year.
The team’s much-hyped fast pace was on display when Carson took it coast to coast and completed two almost full-court passes to get the ball up the floor quickly. Carson however showed discipline as well, backing off and getting the team into their motion offense. The team executed the flex motion many times setting cross screens on the low blocks, freeing up the wings and corners for open shots but fed the post more often on quick flashes inside.
The team also showed off their man-to-man defense, which head coach Herb Sendek made no secret the Sun Devils would play more of this year. Neither team played a single possession of zone. “It’s what our team needs right now, but we have a lot of work to do before we’re good at it,” Sendek said. The second quarter was the most defensive-minded. The two teams only put a combined 19 points on the board but no single player stood out on the defensive end.
Senior Carrick Felix put together the most complete game with 13 points, 1 assist, and 5 rebounds. “Carrick Felix has really emerged as a leader, he’s been a real consistent voice on our team. He’s always been positive, he’s always been encouraging,” said Sendek. This was very apparent on the floor today as Felix was one of the most vocal communicators on the court. He came away with the play of day throwing down a monster dunk over freshman Kenny Martin.
Transfer Evan Gordon also had a great game, adding 14 points of his own, but Jahii Carson said in his post game interview that he believed Gordon held back a little bit today not wanting to risk injury. From Gordon’s play today it seems very likely that he could earn himself a spot in the starting lineup. He was solid in his possession and didn’t try to do too much with the ball at any point.
One downside today, despite Herb Sendek’s appeal to the contrary, was the play of big men Ruslan Pateev and Jordan Bachynski. Although they finished with 10 and six points respectively, their post moves seemed to be lacking and both resorted to hook shots or kicking the ball back out numerous times instead of attempting to make a move, especially Bachynski, who struggled to finish at the rim and was outplayed by Pateev. There were also six turnovers, which isn’t terrible but for coaches and fans alike that number can never be low enough until it hits zero.
Quiet in the scrimmage were Bo Barnes, Jonathan Gilling, and Chris Colvin. Bo Barnes struggled to get open and never found his shooting stroke, but managed seven points. Gilling found himself open and reversed the ball well in the offense but like Barnes never found his stroke and passed up a few open shots. He did manage to help on the boards, grabbing four rebounds. Keep in mind, this was one scrimmage after one week of practice. Things that went wrong today can be fixed. Coach Sendek explained to the crowd after the game that a lot of the mistakes they saw were in part due to conditioning, but coach Sendek is ready to move forward. “I like our guys, I like our team, obviously we have so much work to do…I think they want to get better, but it’s fun going through the process.”