UNLV Edges ASU 96-91 in the NIT's First Round

This isn't how ASU wanted to end a season full of heartaches. Rob Evans' team fought until the bitter end, but once again lost a game that could have be won. The 96-91 loss to the Runnin' Rebels dropped ASU to 14-15 on the year, and marked the fifth consecutive loss for the Sun Devils.

The first half was a see saw game with a sloppy; yet break neck pace that saw over a dozen lead changes and the same number of ties. The first ten minutes saw UNLV draining threes, but ASU was there step for step. At the 11:10 mark the Rebels led 17-15. ASU, behind Awvee Storey who had 10 points in the first period, went on a modest run to claim the lead 23-22 with 7:57 left. The Devils, aided by their 16 offensive boards in the first half, were able to cling to the lead until the home team tied the score at the buzzer at 38-38.

UNLV came out of the locker room sizzling, and grabbed a quick 50-40 lead minutes into the second half, but ASU was able to settle down to cut the lead to 52-46 with 14:57 left in the game. The Rebels run roughshod again on the visitors from Tempe to their biggest lead of the night 60-46 at the 12:47 mark. But the Devils stormed back behind Jason Braxton to cut the lead to 61-54 at the 10:45 mark. After another run by the Rebels, Tommie Smith and Storey led the charge for ASU in to cut down the lead to 81-79 with 2:06 left in the game. Unfortunately, that's as close as it got. The Sun Devils sent the rebels to the line in hopes that would miss their free throws, yet that never materialized.

ASU had a much-improved shooting display after their dismal performance last week against Arizona. Senior Awvee Storey had a memorable last game in the maroon and gold uniform with 29 points. The Sun Devils guard tandem of Curtis Millage and Braxton was solid with 21 and 17 points respectively. Other Devils in double figures were Chad Prewitt and Smith with ten points each. ASU shot very well from the field at 47.7%, but their defense was scorched to the tune of 64% shooting by UNLV, which included eight three point baskets shot at 57.1%. ASU's 82.6 free throw shooting gives hope that this ill has been, at least momentarily, cured.

Arizona State hoped this game could possibly be a springboard to end the 2001-02 season on a positive roll, as well as establish much needed momentum for next season. Instead, it was another defeat that pours salt on the already large and open wounds of the Sun Devil faithful. This game was a 180-degree turnaround in play from last week's dismal loss, but the end result was the same. The sliver lining is clouded right now, but if ASU can duplicate the effort displayed tonight in Las Vegas, it just may create the turnaround its coaches and fans have long been yearning for.

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