Seniors close season with a win

On Saturday, the Sun Devils picked up right where they left off Thursday, with hot shooting and a suffocating defense, while outlasting the Beavers 80-66 in the team's final regular season game of the year.

It was only fitting that on Senior Day in Tempe, the young Sun Devils were led by their trio of seniors, as they enabled ASU to notch their third consecutive victory at home. Phoenix-native Ty Abbott led the charge for the Sun Devils, scoring 22 points while totaling 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals on the afternoon. The four year starter seized the moment, capping a near-perfect final weekend to the season for himself and the team.

"You see it all over the country, guys just kind of step up on their Senior Night," said Abbott. "It just kind of goes their way. It was only fitting that we got our last win here."

Two days after connecting on 13 three-point attempts, the Sun Devils came within one of equaling the schools record by sinking 17 against Oregon State. Rihards Kuksiks continued his late-season torrid pace with 18 points, knocking down four shots behind the arch in his 35 minutes of action. Combined, the three seniors accounted for 13 of the makes, pacing the Sun Devils early and often in the contest.

"They played a zone and we kind of knew how to attack it," remarked Abbott. "We knew we had to have some good movement and move the ball and hope some shots would open up for us.

"Most importantly, we were ready to shoot. The guys didn't waste any time putting it up, and I think that was the biggest thing.

The Sun Devils may also have been the beneficiaries of some disciplinary actions doled out by the Oregon State coaching staff, as the team only played six of its players. The result was an unprepared Beaver squad who committed 20 turnovers, while allowing the Sun Devils to produce 14 steals and 6 blocked shots on the day.

"I definitely thought it was an interesting lineup; playing four bigs and a guard," commented Abbott on the Beavers' lineup. "But that's kind of what usually happens when you play big men and they have to run around with a bunch of guards.

"I think that's why we got a lot of transition points. They couldn't really keep up when we were going.

But Saturday was about more than just the game itself. It was a celebration for a group of seniors who have helped elevate a program that was in dire need of an identity and a makeover. As just coach Sendek's second recruiting class in Tempe, Abbott, Kuksiks, and McMillan leave ASU as the winningest senior group in the programs history, winning 80 games over the course of their four year tenure in maroon and gold.

"After four years, every single day, all the time and effort we've put in, with the countless teammates and coaching staff, we've got to thank our teammates for coming out and playing really hard and for giving us this opportunity to have this feeling on this special day," reflected senior Jamelle McMillan in the post-game press conference. "It's been a lot of fun and we took advantage of the opportunity. We've got to give credit to our teammates for helping us out in that area."

Prior to tip-off, the three seniors were recognized in front of the fans for their commitment to the program. Accompanied by friends and family, the players were presented with their own framed jerseys and an opportunity to soak in the moment. A rush of emotions overwhelmed some more than others, leaving a few tears to be shed before the game.

"I don't know, it just happened," Abbott said. "Just right when I had to walk over there (center court), it just kind of set in. I thought it was going to be like that after the game, but right before it just kind of hits you like a ton of bricks.

"I was okay until I saw this guy (Abbott)," added McMillan. "And then memories came back. Just all of the experiences we've been through. Stuff like that. And then the crowd was phenomenal. You've got to give them credit as well.

"It was a tough deal, coming out for the last time, putting on this uniform, being in Wells Fargo Arena. But like I said, it's been a lot of fun. It's been the best. You guys have been the best. The fans have been great. So I'm happy with what we've been able to accomplish here in the last four years."

Perhaps the most emotional person on Saturday though was none other than veteran head coach Herb Sendek, who admitted afterwards that he couldn't restrain his emotions for a group that has helped build his program to heights unexpected.

"I always try to hold it together on Senior Day and most times I'm pretty good," said the coach. "And I was doing fine, although I was fighting it. I think when I saw Ty come out and he was already gushing, and then I had no choice. I couldn't stop myself."

Aside from the 80 games won during their time in Tempe, the trio is largely responsible for helping guide the Sun Devils to three consecutive post-season appearances, three straight 20+ win seasons, 6 wins over rival Arizona, and a handful of memorable moments over the years. Sendek conveyed how important it was for him to see his players leave with a win in front of the home crowd, a fitting conclusion to three wonderful Sun Devil careers.

"It was really important to me, then through extension to everyone else in or locker room, to have a special day for our seniors," commented Sendek. "These guys have meant a great deal to our program. They've had a good measure of success.

"We've had a hard season, and yet they've galvanized in a way that has allowed them to win the last three games at home. And today, to put a capstone on it like they did, was really nice."

Now, the Sun Devils will regroup and prepare for Wednesday's contest in the PAC 10 tournament in Los Angeles, where the chance to make a few more memories awaits for this group of players. And while the team may feel confident after stringing together a few victories in recent weeks, the coach knows there still remains some work to do before the team takes the floor.

"I don't know if it necessarily means anything," Sendek said. "We're not going to be able to use credit and start the game with some of the points that we didn't use tonight or Thursday night. No different than losing to Washington before we played Washington State.

"We've just got to wipe the slate clean. For the most part, guys are feeling a little bit better, if anything. We've just got to go play on Wednesday night."

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