Encouraging signs shown in win over LBSU

Throughout the preseason and first few games this season, it was understood that the Sun Devils would need some time to gel on the floor while the seven newcomers learned their roles within the system. As the non-conference portion of the schedule nears its end, it finally looks as though the team is beginning to mesh on the court.

Against Nevada it was the clutch play of junior college transfer Brandon Dunson in the game's final minutes that sealed a victory. On Tuesday night, it was the gritty play of freshman Kyle Cain in the post that helped deliver a convincing win over Long Beach State that could go a long ways towards building the confidence of this young Sun Devil team.

Kyle Cain dominated on both ends of the floor, contributing 12 points while corralling a career-high 16 rebounds, 6 of which came on the offensive end.

"Kyle's performance today, is the result of everything he has done since we started practice," said head coach Herb Sendek. "He's an 'everyday guy.' He works his tail off. He's passionate. So he's in position to be at his best. And obviously he did a great job on the backboards today. Sixteen rebounds is an incredible accomplishment for anybody, let alone a young man eight games into his career. "

Cain's performance was one that conjured up comparisons to previous Sun Devil big men, like Jeff Pendergraph and Ike Diogu. His sixteen rebounds were just 2 shy of the freshman record of 18, held by Diogu. With his performance tonight, Cain increased his season averages to 9.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, respectively.

And similar to those other two Sun Devils, it's his blue-collar work ethic that has helped him experience early success in the maroon & gold.

"I think the hustle I got in me and the humbleness that I have," Cain said. "I feel I'm just hungry and just want to continue to get better. I know I'm undersized playing the post, but that doesn't really mean that much to me. I try as hard as I can and try to get my hands on every ball.

"And one thing that's helped me a lot is having Ruslan and Jordan in practice, because I get to go against a seven foot guy and a seven foot two guy."

For now, it appears as though the freshman has secured a spot in the rotation and expects to be a catalyst for the team heading into Pac 10 play at the end of the month.

"I've gotten better and things like that," Cain stated. "My coaches, they push me every day in practice. Our seniors push me every day in practice. It's been fun. I'm getting better and enjoying myself and hopefully we can keep the wins going and have a great season this year."

On Tuesday night the Sun Devils once again flexed their muscles defensively to earn a victory. They were able to limit the 49ers to just 33% shooting from the field and 22% from behind the arc, while also forcing their opponent into 18 turnovers.

"We held them to like twenty-something points in the first half and probably about the same in the second half. It was big for us," said senior Ty Abbott after the game. "We did a good job of knowing their personnel, knowing the shooters and who was going to drive, and stuff like that. That was really the key for us."

Despite their tight defense in the first half, the Sun Devils only found themselves ahead by six at the beak. However, by coming out of the break with an aggressive mindset on both ends of the floor, the sun Devils were able to streak to a lead they would not relinquish.

"The big thing for us was the second half, right out of the gate," remarked Abbott. "A lot of teams like to jump on us and we didn't have that happen tonight. We had some stops and started a run of our own. That was key for us, to have that second half spurt. It helped out a lot."

Helping set the tone offensively for the Devils Tuesday night was Abbott, who poured in a team-high 15 points on 5-14 shooting. After the win, he applauded the effort and progression of his new teammates and credited the overall team's success to their overall development.

"I think that's showing, especially the biggest thing is with defense," commented Abbott. "We have a few guys out there who have been in the system for awhile, so they know the rules and where you can kind of bend the rules and help each other. And the young guys are starting to figure that out. It's helped us out a lot."

Having completed class finals and a grueling first stretch of the season that saw the Devils on the road more times than in past seasons for the non-conference portion of the schedule, Abbott is optimistic that this break and stretch of home games will benefit the Devils and allow them to grow even more on the court.

"This time of year we have no class so it gives more time to be in the gym," the senior stated. "Like I said in the summer, we have a lot of guys who like to work and we've been working hard. It's really paid off.

"You can see the improvement. We're getting in a little bit better shape and we're able to sustain the amount of effort it's going to take."

To go along with the sensational performances from Cain and Abbott was the effort of Jamelle McMillan, who was questionable for Tuesday night's game with a groin injury but toughed it out to help lead his team to victory. Despite being somewhat slowed by the injury, McMillan filled the stat sheet once more by contributing eight points, five assists, four rebounds, and a career high six steals. After the game, Abbott indicated that he never doubted whether McMillan, one of the team's captains, would be able to deliver.

"Jamelle is the kind of person, he's one of our leaders, and he'll always show you the face that you need to see," he stated. "Even if he's hurting or things aren't going that well, you won't see it in his face. He's kind of like a Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, even if things aren't going well, his face is determined, he's a gritty type guy. He doesn't really show too much pain or anything like that."

For now, the Devils will take the win and some time to rest before their Pac 10 foes come calling.

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