Devils Convincing in Tournament Win

It would not be a stretch to assume that the Sun Devil players did not have two-a-day practices on their wish list of holiday gifts. Nevertheless, following Christmas break they were treated to those grueling sessions upon their arrival in Tempe. Judging by ASU's 89-70 win over San Diego, it would appear that this hard work is starting to pay pleasant dividends.

The first few minutes of the contest, were a familiar and not so delightful sight for the maroon and gold faithful. The Torreros jumped to an 11-8 lead at the 15:32 mark. Most of the damage came from former Phoenix Brophy star Nick Lewis who felt right at home, scoring a quick seven points. A Stevie Moore three pointer evened up the score at 13 a piece a minute later. San Diego regained the lead, but a Keith Wooden basket keeps matters close as the Devils trail 19-17 with 11:26 left in the first half.

A Jamal Hill lay-up grants ASU their first lead of the game at the 7:19 mark of the first half, and the home team never looked back. The first half ends with a Braxton to Diogu alley-oop, as the Devils go the locker room with a 45-35 lead.

Another Moore jumper increases the lead to 54-40 at the 15:55 mark of the second half. A rare Braxton three-point basket makes it 63-47 with 12:50 left in the game. Additional long-range bombs by Kenny Crandall and Justin Allen helped ASU pad their lead at times to over 20, but San Diego did manage in the end to cut the final score to a 19-point margin.

Jamal Hill scored a career high18 points, and led four Sun Devils in double figures. Braxton chipped in with a career high ten assists to go along his 15 points. Ike Diogu had 15 points as well, and paced all players with nine rebounds. Stevie Moore had 11 points on the night. Nick Lewis led all Torreros scorers with 18 points, but only seven of them came in the second half.

As expected the Devils dominated most of the statistical categories in the game. They outshot their opponent from the field 56.9% to 45%, and out rebounded San Diego 43-26. Some of the blemishes in this game were allowing the visitors to convert on 71.4% of their three point attempts, and going only 54.5% (6-11) from the charity stripe.

Head Coach Rob Evans was complacent following the game. "I was pretty pleased with the effort of the guys," he said, "coming back from Christmas break for our first game. I was pleased with the effort we got off the bench, namely Keith Wooden, Jamal Hill, Kenny Crandall and Justin Allen."

Evans did credit the practice sessions the last few days for the product on the floor. "We've had a number of workouts," exclaimed Evans. "We worked twice a day for 3-4 days. I really liked the way the guys have worked, and the improvement they have made. We will have ample opportunity, 2-3 more days after we come out of this tournament, to try and shore up some things."

Braxton played a week after having surgery to remove a benign tumor under his arm. His fine play obviously didn't escape the skipper's eye. "Braxton played excellent considering this is the first time that he has practiced since the last game we played. I think it's the best game he played in a long time. We have been really pushing him, and he's starting to understand some things."

In previewing ASU's next opponent, Evans commented: "Western Michigan is a very good, sound basketball team. They play extremely hard, and are well coached. They have some experience, and any time you have experience, you have a chance to win basketball games. They will be an excellent test for us."

Jamal Hill was a huge lift off the bench with his hot shooting hand. However, he thought the team's success tonight lied with another individual "It was just one of those days," said Hill. "I was hot. But it all started with our defense. To be honest, I give the game (ball) to Jason. He always comes out and plays hard. But as you guys know he had that surgery, and he really played with only one arm. He was denying guys in the passing lanes, getting steals, he was the key for the whole game."

The senior seems to be content with his role, as his defensive game improves. "I'm comfortable with any role coach Evans has for me," exclaimed Hill. "My role is to come in off the bench, knock a few jumpers, and play good defense. This was my day I guess. My teammates found me and I was knocking down shots. All I need is one shot. They kept going in, so I kept on shooting…this was one of my best defensive games. I was concentrating a lot, and working on getting in the passing lanes."

The man of the hour, Jason Braxton, admitted that he was sore before, during, and after the game. "Maybe I played a little harder (because of his injury). I just wanted to get on the defensive end and get the team going. I didn't plan on scoring like I did today. I just wanted to get them fired up so they can get a win today." Braxton claimed that the soreness in his arm was more painful during periods of inactivity.

The junior said that his medical condition started with a little "bump" he felt under his arm. "I ignored it," he claimed. "But one day I woke up and it was huge. The doctors drained it, but it swelled up the next day. So the doctors said we had to do surgery. We thought it was a cyst, but it turned out to be a tumor. It came back benign, so I was pretty lucky." Braxton added that he was scared of the surgery since this was the first such procedure he has ever had.

The ASU point guard has been often maligned for his offensive deficiencies. However, he didn't necessary feel like his performance was a redemption of sorts. "I think it was a good game for me," exclaimed Braxton. "I always knew I'm capable of putting up numbers like this. But my main goal this season is to run the team. We have a bunch of new guys, and that's what coach told me from the begining. I never worry about stats like scoring and assists. I just want to play hard."

Braxton does believe that the newcomers are maturing quickly, which is benefiting the team. "The guys came out from the begining and played hard," he said. "We're getting better in our shot selection. They're starting to figure out that out identity is defense first, and then offense, because it makes it a lot easier to score."

Speaking of shot selection, it somewhat bothered Braxton that he was unable to have one of his signature dunks during the game. "The day I get all the breakaways, I had to lay them all up (smile). But it was all right."

Western Michigan, who beat the Winthrop Eagles 76-71, will play ASU in the championship game on Tuesday night at 7:30. The Broncos at 6-1 will undoubtedly give the Devils a stiffer test than the Torreros did. Thus, a double-digit victory on Tuesday will look substantially more impressive than it did on Monday.

Sparky's Sundries The Eagles and Torreros will face each other in the consolation game on Tuesday at 5:00…Prior to the game, ASU learned that they will be without the services of guard Tron Smith for approximately four weeks. The true freshman broke his nose as it caught Ike Diogu's elbow. "He has to have an operation," Evans stated. "I don't know if it will be advantageous to play him at all. We'll have to wait and see." Evans added that he wasn't sure if Smith could play with a mask… Many eyebrows were raised when the San Diego coaching staff pulled Nick Lewis out of the game early in the first half. The center was clearly the visitors' best player on the floor, and his absence coincided with the Sun Devils capturing the lead, and taking command of the game…ASU's Keith Wooden continues to impress in limited playing time. During his ten minutes in the first half he scored six points (2-3 from the field) and snared four rebounds…The Sun Devil bench outscored the Torreros reserves 41-26…

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