Improvement shown through loss

It was another frustrating game for the Sun Devils who lost Friday night at home to New Mexico 76-71. Even though this game will still be filed under the "L" column, it felt much different than a close win versus Montana State, and a loss to Pepperdine on Tuesday.

"I thought we made improvement," coach Herb Sendek said of his squad. "It think we were more of a team tonight. We have to continue on that trajectory. I thought for the most part, perhaps with some lapses, we had good energy and effort. But still, not making enough plays and clearly our turnovers continue to be almost insurmountable. The quantity and the timing of them make it very difficult on our basketball team. That leaves us very little room for error against a good team like New Mexico."

In a game where the team's top player, Trent Lockett, was struggling to get involved the Sun Devils managed to stay afloat in the first half, thanks to a solid performance from Carrick Felix who went to the break with 15 points on 4-6 shooting, including 3-4 from deep, and 4-4 at the line.

Usually when ASU gets that kind of performance out of another player besides Lockett, it has a chance to put a team away, but unfortunately Lockett never really seemed to get into an offense rhythm.

"We have the kind of team that really has to make each other better on offense," Sendek said of his players. "I didn't think we had Trent involved enough in the first half, but the way our offense is going to flow there's going to be some aspect to it like what is there and what is the defense providing.

"It's not like we're running play after play for Carrick. He had some good looks and as you can see he's really improved his shooting. He's an outstanding free throw shooter and really just keeps getting better and better. He has a great attitude and I'm really pleased with Carrick's progress."

Aside from Lockett, starting point guard Chris Colvin once again struggled offensively, especially in the turn over department where he had six, definitely a number too high for any player, much less a point guard.

"I don't know if it's a function of trying to do too much," Sendek said of his point guard. "We're trying to get him comfortable as he makes the transition here. He's a talented young man, he's more than capable, but just obviously the turnover aspect is something that's not just with him, but several of our guys, and our team in general. It's something we've got to do better.

"We've got to make better decisions. We've got to take better care of the ball, just understand the value of a simple play sometimes."

One simple play that Sendek's team has struggled with in three straight games now is its three-point defense. The Sun Devils allowed the Lobos to shoot 9-23 from downtown Friday night, and while that may not seem awful compared to the 8-11 Pepperdine shot on Tuesday, the threes seemed to always come when the Devils were trying to make a push, and ultimately it was a three-pointer by Tony Snell that pushed the Lobo lead to eight with 3:30 remaining, making the comeback by ASU a tough one.

"With the volley of threes we gave up in the first half, maybe at first blush everybody, including myself, was very harsh of our defense on Tuesday," Sendek said of his team's three-point defense. "But when we watched the tape, with the exception of two shots, which I would say were really miss covered, Pepperdine hit five of the most challenged threes we'll see all season. Then the sixth one was in the second half at the end of the shot clock from half court, and our energy was pretty good.

"Our albatross was our offense. Even tonight, we've got to get better on defense, but our energy is pretty good, and guys are moving. Looking in the rearview mirror this week, I'm not a coach who sits here and says we're not as successful as we wanted to be because our guys are being lazy or we're not hustling, I don't have that feeling. I don't think we're necessarily playing well, but I'd feel a lot worse if the reason we weren't as successful as we wanted is because our energy level was low, we weren't hustling."

That's what might give Sun Devil fans some hope moving forward with this group: they never quit. Even down eight after the Snell three, ASU was able to get it back within two with 55 seconds remaining before ultimately UNM was able to put them away.

As Sendek stated, the energy for this team wasn't terrible, and there are some things to be proud of (the free throw shooting is like night and day from last year). Still, for ASU to be successful, this team has to do the little things right…and maybe Jahii Carson wouldn't hurt either.

"If I had to single out any one thing right now its: Montana State, 19 turnovers, 15 Tuesday, 19 today," said Sendek. "We're turning the ball over too much."

It's that simple.


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