TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona State sleepwalked its way into the second half of a home contest with Hartford on Wednesday and looked in danger of an upset before a freshman stepped in to wake them up.
It was not, however, the freshman most would have expected.
Jahii Carson led ASU with 20 points, but it was big man Eric Jacobsen who gave the Sun Devils the second-half jolt needed to beat Hartford 71-63 and start the year 7-1 for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Jacobsen scored three points in five first half minutes, and ASU took a narrow 36-35 lead to the locker room. But after he checked in at the 14:50 mark of the second half and his team down by four, the Sun Devils outscored the Hawks 28-16. Jacobsen played every minute of that stretch, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes.
“He stepped up big,” Carson said of his fellow freshman. “He’s physical down low, he’s proved that in every single game and tonight I think he just took advantage of the mismatches.”
Jacobsen, out of Chandler Hamilton High, entered the night averaging 3.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.4 minutes per game. In 20 minutes Wednesday, he put up an early career best 16 points and six rebounds, making 5 of 6 shots from the field and 6 of 10 from the line. His 16 points were the most by an ASU freshman off the bench since Nov. 16, 2009.
“Just the speed of the game, it’s a lot faster (than in high school),” Jacobsen said. “I’m starting to adjust a little better, and I’ve got great teammates helping me out a lot.”
Jacobsen’s late boost might have saved the Sun Devils from a free-throw line self-destruction. They were 11 of 23 as a team, and 5 of 13 without Jacobsen’s contribution.
“When the whole team’s shooting bad, somebody’s just got to step up and just make a few and get everybody’s confidence going,” Carson said. “I think (Jacobsen) stepped up and hit some clutch shots for us.”
Jacobsen’s strong second half kept veteran Jordan Bachynski off the floor. The junior had six points and three blocks before sitting out the final 15 minutes. ASU coach Herb Sendek’s decision to stick with Jacobsen displayed his readiness to give minutes to the players performing best, regardless of experience or tenure.
“Eric has given us great minutes,” Sendek said. “I’m really proud of his contribution.”
As impressive as Jacobsen’s scoring effort was Wednesday, Sendek is more interested in having him on the floor for defensive reasons, which could lead to more minutes in coming games.
“Eric provides us with someone who can, as a big guy, go out on the perimeter and guard, certainly he can guard in the post, and that allows us to run our offense on the other end of the floor,” Sendek said. “His contribution has been invaluable because of his defensive versatility.”
ASU’s defense took a marked turn in the second half. After allowing Hartford to shoot 50 percent in the first half, including 6-of-16 on 3-point shots, the Sun Devils held the Hawks to 29 percent shooting the rest of the way.
The Hawks still burned ASU from beyond the arch, hitting 12 of 29 3-point attempts. Half of those came from sophomore forward Nate Sikma, who led all scorers with 26 points.
While Jacobsen’s big night might lead to more opportunities going forward, he’s making certain one game doesn’t go to his head.
“I’m just out there playing as hard as I can, doing whatever it takes to win,” Jacobsen said. “If that means I’m on the floor, then I’m on the floor.”