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November 15, 2008

Sun Devils cruise to 80-64 win in opener

Led by a combined 42 points from sophomores James Harden and Ty Abbott, Arizona State got out to a big halftime lead before coasting in relaxed fashion to an 80-64 win over visiting Mississippi Valley State at Wells Fargo Arena Friday night.

Perhaps too relaxed.

Following the game, Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek said he was not pleased his team gave up as many points (41) as it scored in the second half, nor by having more turnovers (eight) than deflections (six) in the period.

"No lead is comfortable in college basketball," Sendek said. "Not with that 3-point line, not the way the game is played today. There is no such thing as a comfortable lead.

"We want to play the same way, with focus, intensity, with attention to detail and sharpness regardless of what the score is. We most certainly, under no conditions, ever have the luxury of being comfortable."

Harden had 24 points on just 11 field goal attempts in the win, while also dishing out 10 assists, and Abbott made 8-of-13 field goal attempts for 18 points to go along with four assists.

Mississippi State seemed outmatched from the get-go, with a new coach and nine first-year players on the roster a season after the program reached the NCAA Tournament as the Southwestern Athletic Conference champions.

The Sun Devils had 24 assists on 26 made field goals in the game, including 12 assists on their first 13 baskets as the jumped out to a 39-23 halftime lead.

But Sendek wasn't particularly happy with the apparently impressive stat, suggesting the ASU offense wasn't working as well as it should have been.

"We really held the ball too much," he said. "The ball didn't move freely. Everybody who caught it kind of made sure it was orange, made sure it was a sphere. And then we passed it. Our offense is going to work better when we move more freely and more sharply."

Still, ASU had an opportunity to blow the Delta Dogs out of the game following intermission. Instead, it immediately surrendered back-to-back 3-pointers and saw Mississippi Valley State go on a 7-0 run to make it 39-32.

"I thought Mississippi Valley did a great job of scrapping," Sendek said. "They hit us between the eyes to start the second half."

The visitors would get no closer than seven points, however, as ASU eventually pushed the lead to 75-50 with 4:23 remaining.

A 14-5 run by Mississippi Valley State to end the game in garbage time only served to make it appear closer than it really was.

Even so, the Delta Dogs shot 50 percent from the field and 50 percent from the 3-point line following intermission after struggling to score from the field in the first half.

Four Mississippi Valley state scores managed double figures, led by forward Shannon Behling with 18 points and guard Michael Clark with 16 points. Both players made four 3-pointers on the evening.

ASU starter Rihards Kuksiks also made four 3-pointers, converting on 4-of-7 from the field, all from behind the arc for a total of 12 points.

Jeff Pendergraph chipped in with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field. He picked up his second foul with more than 11 minutes left on the clock in the first half, and only played 23 minutes in the game.

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