Carson's Hot Start Has Devils on a Roll

The calendar may not show March but ASU Basketball is starting to create a serious buzz. While most of the focus this week surrounds the football team and its quest to win its first Pac-12 South division title, sophomore point guard Jahii Carson reminded everyone that it's hoops season is in session when he poured in a career-high 40 points in an 86-80 road Sun Devil win over UNLV.

Playing in their first road game of the season, the Sun Devils appeared to have their hands full early on when an energized Rebels team, playing before a rowdy Thomas & Mack Center crowd, looked more like the NCAA tournament team from last season than the one which previously lost to UC-Santa Barbara by 21 points on its home floor. Yet, each time UNLV tried to seize control of the game, Carson was right there to wrestle it away.

"When the home team has such great fans like that, the energy is everywhere," said Carson on Thursday about the win. "They were selling alcohol, the building erupted, the fans were jumping up and down and had signs. I thrive off that and I feel like my teammates did too. I just wanted to win so bad that the energy overtook me. We all just came together collectively and got the (win).

"It's huge for our confidence. That team is no slouch. They're probably one of the most athletic teams in the country. I think it gives us a confidence boost. We're going to play tough teams with athletic guys like Bradley, DePaul, and Marquette, so it definitely gives us a confidence boost and we're not going to be afraid to play with anybody from here on."

Carson finished the game with 40 points and seven assists in a season-high 39 minutes while helping the Sun Devils to improve to 4-0 for just the sixth time in the last 29 years. He also became just the fourth player at Arizona State to ever record 40 or more points in a game, joining Eddie House, Paul Williams, and most recently, James Harden, who congratulated Carson after the game via Twitter.

"Yeah that's my guy. He's supposed to do that," Carson said jokingly.

For Carson, it marked the fourth time in his career that he scored 30 or more points in a game, three of which have occurred in Las Vegas. He notched 30 against Creighton late last November and set a previous career-high of 34 points against Stanford in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament last season.

"I said it before, it's is my second favorite place to play," Carson admitted. "(Tempe) is my first one. I just feed off the energy. They have so many shows and everything going on there. The energy is just always up. You know, Vegas, there ain't nothing wrong with it. It's hot just like Arizona, you know, so I feed off of it."

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Last season, Carson averaged 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game on his way towards earning the Pac-12 Co-Freshman of the Year Award. Through four games this year, he's up to 24.5 points and 5.5 assists, and quickly adding his name to the long list of elite players around the country in 2013.

"I feel like there are a lot of people who still don't know about me, who still don't know about my talent," Carson remarked. "Every game I come out and I know there's somebody in the stands that hasn't seen me play and I have to make a first impression for everybody. I don't play for them; I play for the people who haven't seen me play."

For the season, Arizona State is averaging 90 points per game and improved to 26-13 in games with Carson in the lineup. In the 39 games prior to Carson's arrival, the Sun Devils were 13-26 and averaged just 61.5 points per game.

"There are many great point guards in the NBA that I try to model my game after but I just try to be myself," Carson commented. "I just try to play my game and make my own legacy. But Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Steve Nash, all the great point guards in the NBA who have been successful I just try to take everything from their game."

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Providing Carson with some relief in the backcourt has been senior Jermaine Marshall, who after transferring from Penn State and battling back from a case of Valley fever is averaging 18.5 points per game while shooting better than 53% from the field and 46% from behind the three point line. On Tuesday, he helped the Sun Devils battle back late from a seven point deficit by pouring in 14 of his 20 points in the second half to secure the win.

"I can always count on him," said Carson. "There's never a time I have to worry about him coming through because he's a veteran. He knows what he needs to do. He knows what he needs to do to help us win, offensively and defensively. It definitely takes a lot of mental pressure off of me because he's an older guy and knows that he needs to step up.

"He only has one year left and came here to make plays and help us win basketball games and that's what he's been doing so far. He's been spectacular."

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Another significant contributor for the Sun Devils early on has been senior center Jordan Bachynski. Not only did he become Arizona State's all-time leader in blocked shots when he surpassed former Sun Devil great Mario Bennett with his six blocks last Friday against Idaho State (Bachynski now has 198 blocks and counting), but he's also registered a double-double in all four games this season, including a 17 point and 15 rebound effort against the Rebels on Tuesday.

"I definitely feel like he's trying to extend his play," said Carson. "He's guarding tougher guys and guys that are a lot smaller than him. He's making an effort to go after every rebound, every block shot. And he's putting more of an emphasis on scoring the basketball down low.

"Teams are going to try to double-team him, but he's not being rushed into anything. He's been patient and has been making plays for us. Overall, we just have a high confidence level for everybody."

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Arizona State will attempt to become 5-0 for the first time since 1985-86 when they play host to Bradley (4-1) on Friday night at Wells Fargo Arena. The Braves are led by senior guard Walt Lemon, who is averaging 15.2 points and 4.4 assists per game and senior forward Tyshon Pickett, 14.2 points and 8.6 rebounds.

"We definitely have to be prepared mentally and physically," said Carson. "We've got to come out and make plays early and make them feel us. (We've got to) let them know we're not worried about our game against UNLV or the games before them and that we're ready for them right then and there. That's what we did against UNLV. I feel like if we make that happen, we'll be pretty good down the road."


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