LAS VEGAS — Heading into Friday’s game, the ASU men’s basketball team was considered as a 6.5-point underdog against Arkansas by many Las Vegas sports books.
The Sun Devils (4-0) cashed in on their odds and defeated the Razorbacks (3-1) 83-68 in the semifinal round of the Continental Tires Las Vegas Invitational, which many expected to be ASU's first true test of the season. The win over Arkansas gave ASU its first 4-0 start since the 2008-09 season.
"(The win) definitely proves who we are as a team," redshirt freshman guard Jahii Carson said. "It was a good test for us and I'm just pleased with the win. We gave good respect to Arkansas, and we gave good respect to ourselves by playing like such a good team."
Although ASU had a six-point lead early in the first half, Arkansas quickly came back, made the game close and pressured the Sun Devil ballhandlers all the way up until halftime. The Razorbacks brought a full-court press against ASU early in the first half, which resulted in eight Sun Devil turnovers in the first half. The score in the opening 20 minutes of the game was tied four times and the lead was changed seven times.
Despite the Razorbacks’ overwhelming effort, ASU escaped the first half with a 43-41 lead over Arkansas. After the intermission, the Sun Devils came out as a more controlled team, limited turnovers and led the second half by as much as 18. ASU finished the game with a 56 percent field goal percentage.
"(Coach Herb Sendek) came out and told us it's a new ball game in the second half" Carson said. "...We definitely capitalized on open shots and open layups."
Senior wing Carrick Felix contributed 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field and 4-for-4 from the 3-point line. Felix had been hitting just 46.4 percent of his field goals and just 33.3 percent from the perimeter prior to Friday’s game.
"It felt good," Felix said. "I've been struggling the first three games, but now that I've been into a flow, I've been playing in a slower pace and I have guys that were rewarding me."
Junior center Jordan Bachynski carried over his blocking spree to Vegas and swatted four shots. Despite fouling out, Bachynski finished the game with 14 points and 13 rebounds and has a double-double in all four games played. Carson added 19 points and four rebounds, but had five turnovers to go along with his two assists.
Much of Razorbacks' offense came from sophomore guard B.J. Young, who gave Arkansas 29 points in 33 minutes of play.
The Sun Devils’ lone downside that persisted throughout the entire game was free throw shooting. ASU shot 20-for-36 and after Friday’s game, the Sun Devils are shooting just 63.4 percent as a team from the charity stripe.
"Three of the (past) four games, we have not shot the ball well from the free throw line," Sendek said. "That's definitely an area we need to be better at moving forward."
ASU will play in the championship round of the tournament on Saturday at 8pm PT against No. 14 Creighton, which defeated Wisconsin 84-74 later that night. The final round of the Las Vegas Invitational will be the second of back-to-back games the Sun Devils have to play and their fourth matchup in seven days.
"The guys are young, so we need to get them off their feet, get them some rest and I think we'll be ready to go," Sendek said. "A lot of teams are dealing with the same thing, but when you play in these exempt tournaments, that is a real factor. ... It's a challenging mental and physical feat."
Reach the reporter at email@example.com