Underclassmen provide spark, lift ASU in win

Thursday's 56-50 win over North Carolina A&T was anything but impressive, but the impressive play from the "Little Devils," such as Keala King, Kyle Cain, and Chanse Creekmur showed just how far they've come since arriving in Tempe earlier this year.

Trailing by 12 early in the second half after sloppy play from his starters, head coach Herb Sendek inserted newcomers King, Carrick Felix, Creekmur, and sophomore center Ruslan Pateev.

Almost instantly it seemed all 6,154 fans at Wells Fargo Arena began feeding off the energy from the young guys, and vice versa. After the starters took (and missed) several outside shots, the young players, most notably King began taking the ball to the basket and got the Sun Devils to within three points, and eventually were down just six when the starters came back in seven minutes later.

"Maybe a silver lining of this and we won't know until we look in the rearview mirror is that some guys learn some important things," Sendek stated, "and those kind of experiences for our young players can be something we can build on. "It definitely was a team win. Many guys contributed in many ways. You can go right down the line, and that group more than anything they provided us with a new beginning, the provided us with an energy blast that we needed."

The penetration of King mixed with the shooting of Creekmur and the surprising solid performance down low from Pateev got the crowd going and sparked that energy blast Sendek talked about, and while King and Creekmur provided most of the scoring during that stretch, Pateev's four points, four rebounds, and three block performance may have best summed up the improvement from this younger group as the season has progressed.

"I think he's put together his best stretch of basketball since being at Arizona State," coach Sendek said of Pateev. "I can sense his confidence growing and he feels better about himself and I think more than anything he's just being more aggressive and playing with more assertiveness."

While Creekmur has been known as a sharpshooter, his defense and defensive rebounding were key factors today in the win, and in showing he isn't a one-trick pony he may have earned himself more minutes as the Pac-10 schedule opens up next week.

"The first couple months were pretty tough learning the system and all that coming in and playing with new guys," Creekmur confessed. "It's just been a fun experience I think coming so far. We can see the progress in everybody so it's just been fun.

"It can be frustrating at times, but I just take it as a learning experience. I like to sit close to the coaches and learn what they have to say and try and think like them and I think it paid off today and I'm going to keep learning as I go."

And that seems to be the most exciting part about these younger players, is their willingness to learn and grow as a team when the grind of the season makes it tough to do so. Only 11 games in, at 7-4 the Sun Devils aren't exactly where they want to be, but seeing the improvement of these "Little Devils" can't do anything but give the Sun Devil nation hope moving forward.

"I like our team and I really like our guys," coach Sendek stated. "I think we have a lot of work to do though, but I think it's going to be fun going through the process with them, but we've got to get a lot better. We have a good group of guys and they're easy guys to cheer for."

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