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November 14, 2009

Sun Devils cruise past Leathernecks in opener

Following his team's 87-35 opening night win over Western Illinois Friday at Wells Fargo Arena, Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said he wasn't exactly sure what to take from the game other than that his team played extremely hard even when up by a wide margin.

Here are two other things to take from it: It was the largest margin of victory by the Sun Devils over any opponent since the 1996-97 season and fewest points allowed by an opponent since 1949-50.

The Leathernecks may not be a good team but they certainly are no worse than many others who've come to play in Tempe in November and December over the last 13 years -- much less the last 59 years -- and so it goes without saying the win is an impressive one.

"I was really pleased with our energy and effort tonight," Sendek said. "Our guys got on the floor for loose balls, they drew charges, they scrambled, they tried to cover for each other; I very much liked the energy and the effort, and so that was as good way to start the season. We were able to get our young guys some important minutes and to the extent we're able to do that here early in the season, that's good for us."

Junior guard Jamelle McMillan led the offensive charge for the Sun Devils, connecting on his first four 3-point attempts and finishing 4-of-5 from the distance, tying for the team high with 12 points.

But it was a balanced effort for ASU, with ten players seeing double digit minutes on the floor and seven Sun Devils finishing with between eight and twelve points. It's probably the way it's going to have to be this season, with the team moving on without the services of its top scorers from last season, James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph.

Freshman guard Demetrius Walker also scored 12 points, going 8-of-9 from the foul line, with all of his offense coming in the second half after a pep talk from Sendek. Senior point guard Derek Glasser and junior forward Rihards Kuksiks each had 10 points, while senior center Eric Boateng and freshman center Ruslan Pateev each chipped in nine points.

Like his coach, Glasser was most pleased with the team's effort, especially on the defensive end where he believes the Sun Devils can be improved.

"That's how we're going to win," Glasser said. "We don't have a superstar to give the ball to to carry us down the stretch. We're going to have to make all the hustle plays, all the 50/50 plays, whatever time it is in the game. That's going to be our identity I think. We've just got to keep it going."

Offensively, the Sun Devils generated a lot of open shots and knocked those opportunities in the basket at a reasonably high clip, including 8-of-16 from 3-point range in the game.

"The numbers are really good," Sendek said. "I don't know that you can read a great deal into that one way or another to be honest with you. The numbers were good, the guys tried to play together minus about maybe three-to-five possessions. They tried to play together but I don't know that we can read a whole lot into those numbers or jump to any conclusion.

"Guys tried to stay within the framework of what we try to do, they really did. For a first game, especially with a lead, we really didn't have a lot of guys freelancing and 'this is my chance to do my thing.' That's another positive sign because in a game like this it wouldn't be totally uncommon for that to happen."

Perhaps the most encouraging sign in the game from ASU's perspective wasn't even its performance on the court. Instead, it was the very respectable announced crowd of 8,992 that showed up to support its efforts.

It was great to see, especially the student section like it was, especially for an opener," Glasser said. "It doesn't usually get like that until we play UCLA or USC or Arizona but tonight to have them come out and support us like that and us to have a pretty good performance on opening night -- I remember freshman year we got like 10,000 for our opening game and then we lost to NAU and they never came back so we just don't want that to happen again."

"We're making progress and I've been saying it: I don't know when it's going to come to fruition but people ought to get their tickets now because someday they won't be able to," Sendek said. "But I think most encouraging was our students. What a great student turn out. I'm encouraging them all on Monday and Tuesday because we play so late to wear their pajamas to the game…but I thought our students were terrific, I thought we had a good opening night crowd and we're going to continue to build on it. Really, these guys are easy to cheer for, easy to get behind, they're world class guys, they gave great effort. We don't have to sweep the floor tonight. Guys were on the floor. So if you love basketball and you love young people, win, lose or draw, it just seems to me anyway, that's what I love to watch."

Notes

  • ASU played without junior guard Ty Abbott, who is recovering from a knee operation. Abbott began practicing mid-week and could return to game action as soon as Monday's game against Texas State, which is the opening round of the Preseason NIT.

  • Western Illinois played without the services of guard Ceola Clark, one of its top players.

  • Walk-on Marcus Jackson, the Sun Devils' No. 3 point guard, played ten minutes and scored three points.

  • Nine Sun Devils had between four and seven field goal attempts and the team shot 56 percent from the field in the game.

  • ASU limited the Leathernecks to 23.1 percent from the field in the game.


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