Behind the sensational play of its two leaders, Carrick Felix and Jahii Carson, along with the emergence of freshman center Eric Jacobsen, the Sun Devils were able to assert themselves defensively when they needed to, finally overcoming visiting Hartford down the stretch.
Despite a slow start to the game, Carrick Felix could not have picked a better time come alive than when he did in the second half, infusing energy into an otherwise stagnant and stodgy Sun Devil lineup who struggle to match the effort of its opponent in a game it should have easily secured.
Felix posted his second consecutive double-double, finishing with 11 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three blocks, two steals and two assists, helping secure a win for an ASU team that continues to impress early in the season.
"I can't remember coaching a guy - and I know there have been guys who give great effort - but it's hard to think of anybody right now who every possession, offensively and defensively, is giving the kind of energy and effort that Carrick is," commented Head Coach Herb Sendek on the play of the senior wingman afterwards. "I mean, he is laying his heart out. He's fun to watch, he's easy to cheer for."
Trailing by four with less than 15 minutes to play, and having struggled to contain the Hawks on the defensive end of the floor for most of the night, Felix jump-started the second half effort with a steal and a breakaway dunk to ignite the crowd. He followed it up shortly thereafter with a blocked shot and relentless intensity on the defensive glass (nine defensive rebounds), nearly willing his way to a Sun Devil win.
"He's just a high energy guy," added Carson. "He's always there when we need him; rebounds, blocked shots, open shots that he hits, he's just the guys that that we call on we need huge stops. He comes through in the clutch every time for us when we need those stops."
Matching Felix for most of the night was point guard sensation Jahii Carson, who after suffering from an illness last week, appeared to re-gain his early session form, commandeering the Sun Devil offense with deft passing and his speed off the dribble.
Carson, who entered the game averaging 18 points per contest - third best nationally for freshman - notched 20 points on 9-12 shooting while adding six assists and five rebounds in the win.
"He has the ability to turn it up; he has that other gear," remarked Sendek. "And he was 9 for 12 again tonight and maybe most impressive was he was he 3 to 1, assist to turnovers with six assists and two turnovers. That probably, for me, is the biggest gem on his stat line."
"I just try to come out and just give our team a boost of energy," said Carson. "If that's scoring or passing the basketball, if that's stepping up my defensive intensity, I just think that whatever I think can bring energy to the team, and I do."
While Carson and Felix have been the catalysts for this resurgent Sun Devil team for most of the season thus far, the recent breakout play of Jacobsen in the post has come as a welcomed addition to the ASU front court.
Coming off his best game of the season against Sacramento State with 6 points and 9 rebounds, the 6'8" Chandler native out-did himself, while receiving a bulk of the minutes late in the game as starting center Jordan Bachynski watched from the bench. Jacobsen finished with 16 points on 5-6 shooting and snared 6 rebounds, as he continues to impress.
"The thing that Eric is able to do is he's able to bring defensive versatility," said Sendek. "We always talk about offensive versatility, but it's equally valuable to be multi-dimensional on defense. With these opponents that we've had, who are playing a 6'6" post 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.
"Certainly he can guard in the post, and that still allows us to run our offense at the other end of the floor."
"I think he stepped up, he stepped up big," added Carson on Jacobsen. "He's physical down low; he's proved that in every single game. Tonight I think he just took advantage of the mismatches that he had down low and us guards just tried to find him down low and capitalize."
Despite the lethargic start tonight, the Sun Devils still managed to finish strong, improving to 7-1 as they continue to prepare for the start of the Pac-12 season ahead. Following the game, Carson acknowledged his team's lackadaisical play in recent weeks after their surprising play in Las Vegas, as he looks to help the team regain its form heading into this Saturday's showdown with Cal-State Northridge.
"I think we were more hyped coming out at the beginning of the season," said the point guard. "People underestimated us and we felt like we had to make a statement. These last couple games I think got a little comfortable. I think we got a little bit of an ego coming out and I think we've got to just stick to how we were at the beginning of the season, hungry, and just be ready to come out and make an impact and just beat teams.
"In the beginning of the session we wanted to just beat teams and hand it to them. Now I think we're letting off the gas a little bit and just being content to where we are now. We're not looking to get better."