TEMPE – AWOL in the DePaul loss Wednesday, the energy and intensity level necessary to compete when the Pac-12 season begins in two weeks returned to Arizona State on Saturday.
ASU’s 61-42 victory over Dartmouth at Wells Fargo Arena was not especially pretty. Part of that was because Dartmouth slowed the game by running the Princeton offense, and part of it was because the Sun Devils for the second straight game did not shoot particularly well from three-point range or the foul line.
But ASU more than compensated with its activity. The Sun Devils seemed as intense and focused as they has been all season, especially considering the tempo. They had 11 steals among their 16 turnovers and nine blocked shots. It was their second-highest steals total this season.
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“From the beginning, our thing was to have a lot of energy and make sure we compete from the beginning to the end of the game,” said forward Carrick Felix, who went to the floor several times while battling for loose balls.
Felix, as he has been recently, was in the middle of things. He had 13 points and 14 rebounds, his third career double-double and third in the last five games, and was even more active on the defensive end with five blocked shots and four steals. Felix had career highs in rebounds and blocked shots, and he tied his career high in steals.
“My teammates give me the confidence and encouragement to play my game. I have Jahii (Carson), I have Evan (Gordon), I have Jordan (Bachynski) that are always in my ear about having this great energy and making that next play so we can get the team going. Knowing that, I continue to strive and go for it hard,” Felix said.
Carson added a team-high 18 points, six assists and four steals as ASU improved to 9-2 entering its first true road game next Saturday at Texas Tech. The Sun Devils only two previous games away from home were on a neutral site in the Las Vegas Invitational.
The Sun Devils held Dartmouth to 33 percent shooting and had a 42-32 rebounding edge, but even coach Herb Sendek said, “We have to play better.”
ASU led only 46-39 before Carson and Felix combined to start a 15-3 run to end the game. Carson stripped the ball at the defensive end and fed Felix for a breakaway layup. A Felix steal led to a layup by Eric Jacobsen and Carson had a steal and an assists on Evan Gordon’s basket as the Sun Devils pulled away.
“We always want to be ready going into conference, because in conference every day is going to be a constant grind. Every game is going to be a battle. We need to be aware that we can’t start off slowly. We can’t let another team punch us first. We have to make sure we attack them,” Felix said.
“We already know how we play. We get stops, we are burning them. We are going. That’s where it all starts for us.”
The players called it a nice recovery from the 78-61 loss to DePaul on Wednesday, but also believe work needs to be done before they open Pac-12 play against Utah on Jan. 2. The Sun Devils also were a little sluggish in a 71-63 victory over Hartford on Dec. 5.
“Teams like to come in here and try to slow us down and try to get us off-balance. We just have to keep focusing and come in and punch them in the face first and let them know we are making a statement early,” Carson said.
“Because when we play teams like Texas Tech and teams in conference, we can’t have any leeway. We have to go out and get after it early. With teams like this, we have to make a statement, so when we go into conference, teams know that we played some games in conference.”
Sendek showed a new look and gave opponents something to think about, when he went to a lineup with Carson as the only guard in a four-minute stretch late in the first half, a periodin which ASU made a nice run. Freshman forward Kenny Martin entered at the media timeout with 7:46 remaining and made an immediate contribution, hitting a follow shot after a Felix miss to give ASU a 20-11 lead, about the midpoint of a 14-0 run that gave the Sun Devils a 25-11 lead. Felix, forward Jonathan Gilling and center Bachysnki were also on the floor.
Martin, who had played only 17 minutes while appearing in six of the Sun Devils’ first 10 games, also had two rebounds in the first half. ASU changed to a more conventional three-guard group when Evan Gordon and sixth man Chris Colvin replaced Martin and Felix with 2:53 left in the half, at 27-14. Martin, 6-foot-8,entered early in the second half and had a strip and a blocked shot in consecutive possessions to help ASU to a 35-21 lead.
“He definitely came on and had great energy for us, and that’s what we need from him every game,” Felix said of Martin, a freshman from Glendale Kellis High. “You can tell when he gets on the court he is trying to learn and do things right. We need for him to always have energy.”