Arizona State’s crisp ball movement, up-tempo transition game and improved free throw shooting were the keys to victory against Washington State last night.
ASU defeated the Cougars 69-57 and improved to 20-7 overall and 9-5 in the Pac -12. The win marked the fourth time coach Herb Sendek has won 20 games during his seven-year tenure in Tempe.
In beating Washington State (11-16, 2-12), the Sun Devils took another step closer to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2009. It also set up a pivotal game against the Washington Huskies on Saturday.
ASU took a while to find its footing on “James Harden Night,” when students donned fake beards in honor of the local hoops legend and current NBA all-star. But once the Sun Devil offense started clicking, they were able to build 36-22 lead by halftime.
Sendek’s squad lost defensive focus late in the second half to allow Washington State to close within eight. After some rousing words from the coach during a timeout, the team regrouped to finish the game with a 12-point margin of victory.
Senior forward Carrick Felix and freshman guard Jahii Carson had big nights for the Sun Devils. Felix scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He will play his last home game Saturday against the Huskies. Carson added 21 points and five assists.
Center Jordan Bachynski was the only other ASU player in double figures, scoring 12 points to go with his seven rebounds and five blocked shots. Bachynski had two dunks in the final eight minutes, his second straight 12-point game.
Carson electrified the crowd at Wells Fargo Arena with a slam just before the break. He took a one-handed rebound after a D.J. Shelton miss and ran the length of the court, dodging two Washington State defenders in his drive to the basket.
“We just tried to bring energy, and I think our whole team just capitalized on all that energy,” said Carson.
Felix echoed the sentiment: “Guys were prepared to do battle tonight. We did let up in the second half defensively, and that’s something we have to take a step back and look at because we’re down in February now and we can’t give up leads like that.”
He added, “We are not going to stop now. We definitely have an opportunity to go the tournament, and that is our goal right now. But we still want to stay in the present day.”
The Sun Devils shot 50 percent on the night, using effective ball movement to get clean looks at the basket. They also had 18 assists — the most in seven games — and made 15 of 18 attempts from the free throw line.
Brock Motum led the Cougars with 17 points and Phoenix Sunnyslope High product Royce Woolridge had 16 points. They shot 40.4 percent.