TEMPE — On the night Jahii Carson arrived, the “wolverine” returned.
Point guard Carson had 15 points and five assists in his long-awaited and highly anticipated Arizona State debut Saturday, and the animal that is center Jordan Bachynski picked exactly up where he left off in a 79-64 victory over Central Arkansas at Wells Fargo Arena on Saturday.
Bachynski, who improved appreciably when he became more assertive in the second half of last year, was one rebound short of a triple-double — 17 points, 12 rebounds and a school-record nine blocked shots. Bachynski, 7-foot-2, made 8-of-10 field goal attempts and controlled the inside against the undersized Bears, who had no starter taller than 6-8.
“He’s a dominant force,” Carson said.
“That’s my goal, to play every game with the mindset of the animal, as we call it. Just come in and be aggressive. You can’t play hard unless you have the right mindset, and that was the focus for me this game,” Bachynski said.
Bachynski broke the school record of eight blocked shots, set by Alton Lister against Harvard in 1978 and tied most recently by Jeff Pendergraph against Illinois State in 2008. He also five dunks, two follow shots and three when the point guards — freshman Carson and senior reserve Chris Colvin — found him after penetrating the lane.
Colvin had 11 points and five assists, and he was on the floor when ASU ended the first half on a 16-0 run for a 49-31 halftime lead, for all intents and purposes deciding the game.
Bachynski had two baskets, Evan Gordon made two free throws and a 3-pointer, Jonathan Gilling had a 3-pointer and Colvin had a layup and two assists in the final 2 ½ minutes, shortly after coach Herb Sendek called a timeout when Central Arkansas tied the game for the first and only time at 29.
“He just told us it’s not good enough. We have to go. We have to work hard. We have to push the ball, and it paid off. Those are the moments and you see that’s what Sun Devil basketball is about. That’s what we are going to do this year,” Bachynski said.
Gordon, like Carson playing his first game at ASU after sitting out 2011-12 following a transfer from Liberty, showed he could be something special with 14 points, eight rebounds and five steals. Jonathan Gilling had 11 points and six rebounds, and Carrick Felix had seven points and 11 rebounds.
Gilling had three of ASU’s six three-pointers, popping out at the top of the key after penetration by Carson or Colvin took the defender away. Carson had two 3-pointers and Gordon one.
Carson scored 58 points in the last game he played that counted, in a state tournament loss to Brophy Prep, scored his first ASU basket on a driving layup through the right side with 12:11 remaining in the first half for a 17-8 lead. He hit 3-pointers from the left baseline and the top of the key later in the first half, in a game that could not come quickly enough.
Carson said he felt overwhelmed when he woke up Saturday, knowing he would be on the floor again.
“Words can’t really explain it. I was just glad to be out there. I felt excitement. I felt like a kid in the candy store pretty for the most part. Seeing my family, seeing the crowd, seeing my teammates excited for me,” Carson said.
“I felt comfortable. We had a couple of closed scrimmages (against St. Mary’s and the University of San Diego) so I was able to get my feel for the game. I wouldn’t say I was nervous. I just went out there and played.”
The Sun Devils pushed the ball, occasionally a little too fast for coach Herb Sendek’s liking, but at the same time, they have been practicing for only four weeks and have two new starters in Carson and Gordon. They had 16 turnovers, right at their average from last season. Central Arkansas, picked to finish eighth in the 10-team Southland Conference, had 19 turnovers and shot 37 percent from the field.
“There were moments we didn’t play as well as we could have as a team, in the first half especially. There was a lull,” Bachynski said.