It wasn’t pretty offensively, but ASU men’s basketball snagged a win Tuesday with its defense.
The Sun Devils (3-0) held Cornell to 35 percent shooting and forced 23 turnovers in their 64-53 win. It’s the fourth most turnovers forced under coach Herb Sendek.
ASU shot 35 percent in the game. Freshman point guard Jahii Carson had a game-high 21 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Eleven of his points came at the free-throw line. Cornell sophomore forward Shonn Miller led the Big Red (1-4) with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
“I thought our guys hung in there and battled on a night where we obviously struggled to make shots from the perimeter and from the free-throw line.” Sendek said. “But our defense once again had a very respectable showing.”
The Sun Devils had their worst offensive first half performance this season. The up-tempo offense Sendek implemented produced 49 and 45 first half points in two games. They scored half of that, 22, Tuesday. ASU shot 27.6 percent in the first half.
“We usually come out to a great tip-off and usually energized,” Carson said. “I don’t know what happened today.”
The Sun Devils were dreadful from outside, shooting 3-of-18 from three-point range. They had the same amount of turnovers, eight, as field goals.
“I thought we were impatient, and we were very quick to settle in the first half,” Sendek said. “We seemingly talked about it throughout the half and didn’t quite get the message.”
ASU was 5-of-11 inside the arc, but it couldn’t feed the post. Sun Devil senior center Jordan Bachynski was 0-for-3 in the half against 6-foot-9 senior forward Josh Figini from Cornell. He struggled to get position in the paint. Cornell also had weak side help ready when ASU made an entry pass to Bachynski, creating a difficult shot attempt.
Cornell wasn’t any better from the field at 34.8 percent. The Big Red had 13 turnovers in the first half, yet ASU only scored nine points off turnovers. Miller led the team with eight points at the half. The Big Red had a 22-17 rebounding edge despite a noticeable size differential and finished the game with four more rebounds, 40-36.
The Big Red saw its lead trimmed to 25-22 at halftime, when Carson drilled a three-pointer as time expired. ASU carried the momentum to start the second half on a 7-0 run. Senior wing Carrick Felix turned two turnovers into four points for the Sun Devils. He finished with 10 points and four steals. Bachynski followed a block on Cornell senior forward Errick Peck with a dunk, his first field goal in the game, on the opposite end. Bachynski finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks.
“We thrive off energy,” Carson said. “When we get stops, get rebounds and the big guys get blocks, I just think everybody’s energy level gets elevated, and that’s how we bury teams.
“We noticed it (the energy level) from the first media timeout. We were hyped in the timeout and came out and sustained it.”
Sendek elected to press Cornell, which helped sustain the energy from the run. ASU was effective in forcing turnovers in the press and played a big role in its 42-point second half performance.
”The last two games that we’ve had, I thought we really came out flat to start the second half,” Sendek said. “Given that recent history, coupled with the fact that I thought we needed to jump start ourselves given our three-point deficit, it just made sense to try that. Our guys did a really good job and it gave some momentum to start the second half.”
ASU is now 2-0 in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. The team will head to Las Vegas on Friday to face Arkansas at the Orleans Arena.
“It’s going to be perfectly timed for our team,” Sendek said. “It’s going to tell us more about ourselves, but I think we got out of the gates exactly the way we wanted to.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org