Devils Crush Crusaders in Tournament Final

It may have started on a concerning note, but ASU's Holiday Classic final was for the most part far from being a nail biter. The Sun Devils finished the non-conference portion of their schedule 11-1 as they routed Valparaiso 89-65 on Tuesday night.

The maroon and gold had a hard time figuring out the visitors' zone, but the Crusaders could only muster a 6-2 lead at the 15:15 mark of the first half. Two three point baskets by Kevin Kruger, who replaced the injured Bryson Krueger in the starting lineup, ignited a 11-2 run that put the home team up 13-8 with 11:05 left in the half. Six straghit points by Ike Diogu established the lead at 23-13 at the 7:22 mark, and ASU never let their margin dip into single digits from here on out. Serge Angounou erupted for seven points down the stretch, and coupled with a suffocating defense sent both teams to the locker room with the Devils leading 38-20. Diogu scored six points in the first three minutes of the second half to mushroom the margin to 47-25. Tim Pierce scored all of his nine points in the second half, as his team cruised to the convincing victory – the ninth in a row in this 2004-05 season.

Diogu, who was named the tournament MVP, paced all players on the floor with 21 points and six blocks. Both him and Angounou, who scored 11, tied for the team lead in rebounds with 11 apiece. Other ASU players in double figures were Kruger with 17, and Steve Moore with ten, and just like Diogu both were selected to the all-tournament team. The Sun Devils had a commanding 51-26 edge on the glass, and their 25 offensive rebounds almost matched the visitors' total caroms. The home team was 39.1% from behind the arc, and an encouraging 78.6% from the free throw line. Dan Oppland led Valpo with 17 points and seven rebounds, and was also voted to the all-tournament team.

"I thought it was a good job by our guys tonight," said coach Rob Evans. "They set the tone on the defensive end of the floor, and held Valpo to 20 points in the first half. Our shooting was pretty good. When we first got started we were quick to the trigger, and after a while we settled down and shot the ball decent from the perimeter." The ASU coach said that the injured Bryson Krueger is day-to-day, but he was pleased with the players that did step up in his absence.

"We played 12 ball games and we're 11-1," Evans continued. "We played a lot of different type teams. Teams that slow things down, push the basketball, teams that zone, teams that trap…I think we've seen what we need to see to get ready for Pac-10 play. It's a step up to play the first three games on the road, but we're certainly prepared for it."

ASU's non-conference record may be getting only limited respect in the local and national media, but the improved play of the team is striking to say the least. Nevertheless, Rob Evans' squad faces a stiff test next week as they play three consecutive road games at Arizona followed by a visit to the bay area schools. The results in the next 10 days will either turn doubters into believers or reinforce the critics' argument that the team's out of conference schedule won't translate into a better Pac-10 campaign than last year. One thing is for sure; the first month of 2005 will answer all many questions some still have over this basketball team.

Sparky's Sundries Prior to tip-off, Rob Evans was given the game ball of the Long Island victory last night that marked his 100th win in his ASU tenure…The Pep Band was in El Paso for the Sun Bowl, but a loud 8,588 in attendance ensured a non-silent Wells Fargo arena…Valpo's coach Homer Drew should be added the nickname "half court", because that's where he was arguing a foul committed on Diogu. He was lucky to exit the confrontation with the refs with only a technical…To his credit, his bench was well coached, as they alerted their teammates on the court as they counted down out loud when the shot clock was winding down…the only ASU stumble of the night was by Sparky when he was going the extra mile and delivering a MaCayo's Mexican feast to a lucky fan in the upper level…Penn State defeated Long Island 80-56 earlier Wednesday in the consolation finals.

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