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November 29, 2007

Sun Devils start quick, blow out Eagles

Two days after its blowout victory over Cal Poly on Monday, Arizona State jumped out to an 18-3 lead on Florida Gulf Coast, including 3-point baskets by each of the team's three freshmen starters -- Jamelle McMillan, Ty Abbott and James Harden -- and a three point play by Jeff Pendergraph, before widening the lead to as many as 37 points and coasting to an easy 91-59 win.

Harden led the Sun Devils with 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field, including 2-of-2 from behind the 3-point arc, the first shots he's made from the distance this season. Abbott and Christian Polk had 15 points apiece for the Sun Devils, and Pendergraph had 10 points.

"I thought our team did a really good job all in all," said ASU coach Herb Sendek "They were really ready to play in the beginning. We shot the ball well ourselves and continue to play very unselfishly. I thought it was a good win for us."

In winning back-to-back games by 30 or more points for the first time since December of 1990, the Sun Devils shot 52.4% from the field and 46.7% from behind the 3-point line in the game.

ASU led 45-8 with 5:22 left in the first half, scoring seemingly at will regardless of whether the Eagles were in their man-to-man or zone defense, which they switched between back and forth throughout the period.

The Eagles cut the deficit to 54-26 at intermission, due in large part to some hot 3-point shooting in the final minutes. In the game, Florida Gulf Coast made 13-of-28 (46.4%) 3-points, many seriously contested by a tough ASU matchup zone.

If not for that, the game would have been even more lopsided.

"The one thing we're disappointed in is we didn't guard the 3-point line as well as we needed to for 40 minutes," Sendek said. "Sure enough, every time we gave them any breathing room, they put it on the scoreboard."

Florida Gulf Coast, playing for the first time at the Division IA level this season, was clearly outmatched by the Sun Devils after being very competitive at Bradley and Iowa earlier this season.

It's a sign of where this ASU squad is at five games into the season, as it prepares for its first true road game of the season, Sunday at Nebraska.

"I think this team has confidence but at the same time, I say this often about them, they also possess humility," Sendek said. "If you have one without the other and try to do what we're doing, it's challenging. You've got to have self-esteem, you've got to feel good about yourself to perform. You've got to believe in yourself. But at the same time, if that confidence ever trespasses into cockiness and you lose humility, then you stop learning and improving."

To that point, following the game, Harden and Polk spoke about the team's desire to continue to perfect the zone defense that was quite successful for the team in the second half of last season.

"Offense isn't the problem," Harden said. "It's our defense. They're a good team but our defense is what we focus on. They shot the ball well. We've still got to focus on our defense a lot. That's the main focus."


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