TEMPE, Ariz. – Somewhat lost in Jahii Carson’s strong early run has been the play of sidekick Carrick Felix.
The two have played together since being AAU teammates years ago, and Felix has proven a productive complement to distributor Carson in the open-court game Arizona State wants to play this season.
Even when the game slowed appreciably Wednesday, when Arkansas-Pine Bluff ran a patient offense and played a tightly packed 2-3 zone defense, Felix had another in a series of good nights with 21 points and four assists in the Sun Devils’ sluggish 67-54 victory at Wells Fargo Arena.
It was not especially pretty.
“Not to be too much of a sourpuss, but I think we can play better,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said.
But it was a victory, and ASU was not about to turn it back while moving to 5-1, its best start since 2009.
Felix was most noticeable in a 17-0 run that put the game away midway through the second half, when he accounted for eight points with a 14-foot jumper, a three-point play on a short jumper in the lane and a free throw, and an assist on a Jonathan Gilling 3-pointer. Felix also drew an offensive foul during the run, which gave the Sun Devils a 54-39 lead.
A senior forward, Felix made it a priority to be more aggressive this season, but he also has found that good things come to those who are patient.
“I am just playing slow and playing my game, waiting for things to come to me,” he said. “When you have a point guard like Jahii Carson, he is finding me at good spots, and so is everybody else. We have played together for awhile now. I guess you can say we’ve been used to each other.”
Felix has 62 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in his last three games. Felix tied his career high with four assists against Pine Bluff, and he also had two blocked shots and two steals.
“I’m just going to continue to work and give my team whatever they need,” said Felix, a graduate student who earned his degree last spring.
“If they need me to be a rebounder, I’m going to rebound it. If they need me to be a passer. An energy guy. Whatever it is, day in and day out, I’m just going to be there for them.”
Carson, who entered as the leading freshman scorer in NCAA Division 1, had nine points, 12 below his average, and made only 2-of-8 field-goal attempts. He had a career-high eight assists and was all but forced into a distributing role as the focus of Pine Bluff’s zone. The Golden Lions guards trapped Carson at the top of the key, and the defense moved to him when he tried to penetrate. He had seven of ASU’s 18 turnovers, the second consecutive game ASU has committed that many. It was an area of concern for Sendek early in the week.
“We weren’t sharp in any phase of the game,” Sendek said. “Turnovers were a big issue. Just really careless with the basketball. Eighteen turnovers is way too many. The game wasn’t played at a fast pace. They clearly controlled the pace of the game, so turnovers, definitely, way out of whack.”
ASU’s man-to-man defense was stifling, holding Pine Bluff (1-5) to a 29.7 field goal percentage. Pine Bluff was 9 for 33 in the second half. ASU shot 45 percent and was 14 of 24 in the second half.
Gilling had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Jordan Bachynski added 10 points, six blocked shots and five rebounds as the Sun Devils overcome a lethargic first 25 minutes.
“I don’t think our energy level was there,” Felix said. “They controlled the pace the whole game. We have to make sure we bring it every day. We just have to be ready to play every game. Not every game is going to be as easy as it seems. Not every game is going to be there for us to take. We have to work.”
ASU, which plays Sacramento State on Saturday night, got the second-half lift it needed when it was able to beat Pine Bluff’s zone from the outside by freeing its spot-up shooters for open looks behind the 3-point line.
Evan Gordon is still working through an early season slump, but his 3-pointer from the right wing on a feed from Gilling with 13:42 left gave the Sun Devils a 40-39 lead, and Gilling followed with his 3 from Felix on the next possession. Carson ended the run with a 3 from the top of the key, making it 54-39 with 9:08 remaining.
“We were picking up the energy. Being smart,” Felix said.