"It is important to say please give A&T great credit, but from our standpoint we had some looks at the basket that we have to do a better job of converting to not be in that position. Then as the shots didn't fall, you could feel the air going out of the building, then ‘uh oh,' here we go."
The first few minutes were no indication of the struggles that Arizona State (7-4) would endure later in the afternoon. A couple of three pointers by Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks helped the Sun Devils jump to a 13-5 lead at the 15:25 mark. North Carolina A&T (5-6) went on a 16-7 run to claim a 21-20 edge with 5:42 left in the half and went to the locker room with 29-23 advantage.
Down 34-23 at the 18:15 mark of the second stanza, the entire starting lineup sans Abbott was substituted for Ruslan Pateev, Keala King, Carrick Felix and Chanse Creekmur. These four underclassmen scored 13 points in less than seven minutes and brought down the deficit to 42-36 at the 11:48 mark.
"It was good because they stepped up and brought us back into the game," said Kuksiks of the reserves' contributions. "We came out and they scored a couple of three's on us and dunks, and the coaches got mad at us and pulled everybody out to put the second squad in and they just brought us back into the game."
The Sun Devils put the clamps on the Aggies holding them scoreless in the last 7:52 minutes of the contest, while Lockett's nine points in the second half continued the momentum ASU was enjoying. King's layup tied the game at 50 and Lockett's alley-hoop dunk marked the last points of the contest and completed a 30-12 run following ASU's 12-point deficit.
Kuksiks paced ASU with 15 points and was 4 of 8 beyond the arc. Lockett added 12 points. Abbott was just 3 of 13 from the field for 8 points but led his team with five assists. Kyle Cain didn't register a point but hauled in 14 rebounds, six of them offensively. Pateev had three blocks along with his four points and four rebounds.
Both teams shot 35.1 percent from the field, but ASU held the visitors to 29.6 percent in the last twenty minutes after the Aggies shot at a 40 percent clip in the first half. The Sun Devils had a 43-35 edge on the glass and 13 of those rebounds were on offense. The Aggies' Nic Simpson led all players with 17 points.
Today's victory and ASU's first 11 games overall are not a reason for despair but definitely demonstrate the fact that the Sun Devils will undoubtedly have to improve their performance as they begin conference play next week.
"I like our team and I really like our guys," 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. I thought today notably our crowd really helped us. For a noon weekday game, I though their spirit really helped us get over the hump today, and that was very much needed and appreciated."
So what was Sendek's message to the team following this victory?
"Happy Holidays," said Kuksiks. "We've got to be better though. Got to be better and got to get ready for Oregon State next."