For the second game in a row, freshman point guard Carson basically took command down the stretch, this time helping the Sun Devils avert an upset in a 64-53 victory over Cornell at Wells Fargo Arena on Tuesday.
Carson accounted for 16 of the Sun Devils’ final 23 points, scoring 13 of his career-high 21 points and adding an assist and a steal in the final nine minutes, a few possessions after Cornell grabbed its only lead of the second half, 38-36.
It is the sort of thing that is expected of a top recruit, and Carson is showing he can get it done.
“I like to try to get a lot of energy going in the last five minutes. I think that’s the crunch time moment, where we can bury teams or teams can bury us, and we don’t want to get buried,” said Carson, tugging at his Team USA-issue under shorts.
“I just try to be in attack mode the last five minutes to seal the game.”
Carson assisted on a 3-pointer before hitting one of his own on a feed from Chris Colvin for a 51-42 lead with five minutes remaining, then made eight straight free throws and a 10-foot floater to keep the Sun Devils comfortably ahead. Carson drew fouls with his quickness, angling past defenders who were then forced to reach or body up in an attempt to slow him down.
“I try to take over the game a little bit defensively and try to attack when I have the ball offensively. My teammates know that can get us going and I can get everybody going, and once everybody else is getting going, I think we are dangerous,” Carson said.
ASU, which won its first two games of the Las Vegas Classic against Florida A&M and Cornell at Wells Fargo, will play the final two games of the tournament in Vegas this weekend, meeting Arkansas on Friday and either Creighton or Wisconsin on Saturday. The Sun Devils are 3-0 for the first time since 2009-10.
Carson had 20 points against Florida A&M, scoring 12 of those to go with two of his seven assists in the final 12 minutes of a 97-70 victory, when the Sun Devils scored 40 of the final 58 points.
After placing five in double figures in the first two games, the Sun Devils had only one other player in double figures, Carrick Felix, who had 10 points to go with four rebounds and four steals. Jordan Bachynski, who had another significant height advantage, had eight points, 10 rebounds and seven block shots. Jonathan Gilling had nine points and Chris Colvin eight.
Both teams shot 35.2 percent, and Cornell (1-4) hurt itself with 23 turnovers.
The Sun Devils had trouble early with Cornell, which is three years removed from a trip to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen, although none of the stalwarts from that team remain. Cornell played a sagging, switching man-to-man defense that enticed the Sun Devils to shoot from outside, and it worked.
ASU took 18 3-pointers in the first half and made only three, the last when Carson beat the clock to pull the Sun Devils within three, 25-22, at half. Many of the shots were open looks, but just as many came early in the shot clock. The Sun Devils pounded the ball inside to 7-foot-2 Bachynshi the first few possessions but quickly got away from that, not returning until the second half.
“We were really quick to settle” for outside shots, ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “We had too many possessions when we took a shot on one, maybe two passes. Sometimes no passes. A disproportionately high number of our shots came from ‘three,’ and I don’t necessarily think it was because they were giving us the three.
“We were impatient. We seemingly talked about it through the first half and didn’t quite get the message.”
Sendek turned to a fullcourt press to open the second half, turning the game immediately back in ASU’s favor. Cornell hade turnovers on six of its first eight possessions as the Sun Devils opened with an 11-3 to take back the lead.
“We definitely want to try to speed the game up when we press like that, get the guys tired, see how much shape they are in,” Carson said.
“I think they get a little fatigued, and then we start to bury them on defense, getting open shots, because they can’t play as hard. They were playing deny defense, and they couldn’t play deny as hard after we sped them up with the press.”
Cornell took the lead a final time at 38-36, before Carson went to work.