The ASU men’s basketball program has only had three teams start 8-1 in its history.
This year’s squad has a chance to be the fourth.
The Sun Devils (7-1) can reach the rare feat Saturday when they host Cal State Northridge at Wells Fargo Arena. They’ll look to build off their second half performance against Hartford Wednesday. ASU held the Hawks to 29 percent from the floor in the second half for the 71-63 win.
Coach Herb Sendek has been pleased with the team’s half-court defensive efforts this season. ASU’s transition defense, however, has been a problem.
“Our ability to limit our opponents to one shot and come up with loose balls has not (been good),” Sendek said. “But the basic structure of our half-court defense has been pretty good.”
While the Matadors (7-2) are in the Big West, the Sun Devils can’t afford another poor first half performance. Hartford shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half. The Sun Devils didn’t control the game until midway through the second half.
“Those guys (Hartford) can step out and shoot the three ball,” redshirt freshman Jahii Carson said of the slow start. “They weren’t quick, they were deceptive when they were driving. It took us a while to get used to them putting the ball on the floor and also shooting open three-pointers.”
The Matadors will also present matchup problems for the Sun Devils. The tallest player in their rotation is 6-foot-9 Tre Hale-Edmerson, who averages about 20 minutes a game. While they don’t shoot the three-point shot as often as Hartford or Sacramento State, the Matadors average 63 field goal attempts per game. That’s nearly eight more than ASU. Cal State Northridge defeated Vanguard 120-69 Wednesday and went 67.2 percent on 45-of-67 shooting from the floor.
How Sendek balances minutes in the frontcourt between true freshman forward Eric Jacobsen and junior center Jordan Bachynski will be interesting to watch. Jacobsen had his best game as a Sun Devil and sparked the team’s second half performance. He had 16 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes and played the final 14:50 of the game. Bachynski had six points and three rebounds in 22 minutes.
“He’s (Jacobsen) able to bring defensive versatility,” Sendek said. “We always talk about offensive versatility, but it’s equally valuable to be multi-dimensional on defense. And with these opponents that we’ve had that are playing 6-6 posts who can shoot threes and go off the dribble, Eric provides us with someone who can as a big guy go out on the perimeter and guard.”
The Sun Devils also had a season-low 10 turnovers Wednesday. Sendek’s goal has been to average around 12 turnovers a game, and the Sun Devils have gone below that figure in consecutive games. They had 11 turnovers against Sacramento State last week.
“That needle is moving in the right direction,” Sendek said.
Carson leads the Pac-12 with 4.1 turnovers a game, but he had just two against Hartford to go along with six assists. His aggressive play has also helped the Sun Devils reach the charity stripe often this season.
While the team is shooting poorly at 65.1 percent, ASU nearly made more free throws than its opponents have attempted. ASU has made 138 free throws, while the opposition has shot 139 free throws.
“I love the fact that we’re getting to the line, and we’re playing good defense without fouling,” Sendek said.
Tip-off is at noon on the Pac-12 Network and on 860 AM.
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