Devils Topple Thunderbirds in Season Opener

ASU's inaugural game of the 2005-06 season was a tale of two halves. A 20-point margin in the first stanza gave the maroon and gold the cushion to literally trade baskets with the visitors from Cedar City Utah in the last twenty minutes, and still win in a convincing manner 82-62.

Arizona State (1-0) never trailed in the game, and took full advantage of Southern Utah (0-4) and their turnovers (17 in the first half, 27 total). Six points by Craig Austin gave the home team a 13-7 lead at the 15:11 mark. It took ten minutes and 15 seconds for the visitors to score in double digits, and by then ASU was leading 21-12. A three pointer by Kevin Kruger put the margin at 21 points, 35-14, with a little over five minutes to go in the half. Instead of continuing to pound the opponent, the Devils let the Thunderbirds score their next 14 points in the remaining few minutes of the first half, which ended 48-28 in favor of ASU.

Austin started the second half as he did the first, with a flurry. His seven points in the first four minutes of the game awarded his team a 55-32 edge at the 16:06 mark. Alas, the Devils weren't able to shake off the T-Birds, who kept pace the whole second half. A jumper by Claudino gave his team a 68-40 edge with 9:51 left in the game, but the visitors brought it down to the eventual 20-point difference later in that period.

Austin enjoyed a career-high 21 points, which is four points better than his total output last season. Other Sun Devils in double figures were Bryson Krueger with 18, and Kevin Kruger with 14. Kruger had a team-high six assists, while Serge Angounou paced his squad with seven boards. This wasn't one of the better performances on defense, as ASU allowed Southern Utah to shoot at a 51.1% clip. The maroon and gold were however outstanding from the free-throw line where they converted 24-27 attempts for 88.9%.

"I was pretty pleased with the way kids came out today to get started," said Head Coach Rob Evans following the game. "We held this team to 14 points in the first sixteen minutes, and in the second half we got a little fatigued. We executed on the offensive end and got good looks and had good possessions. After we got a big lead we were a little too quick and took shots that we probably didn't want."

Evans wasn't surprised by Austin's performance, and attributed his play on Wednesday night to his hard work in practice and in the weight room. "This is what we try to do with our young kids," he remarked, "and that's have them improve every year. He's improved a lot like Chad Prewitt did when he came into the program. Craig has been playing that way all pre-season and being confident. We got to play him so he can get confidence and we'll need his inside scoring."

The Sun Devils skipper was also pleased with the play of Bryson Krueger, who didn't settle for jumpers and attacked the basket more than he has in the past. While he was content with the job Kevin Kruger is doing at the point, Evans doesn't want to play him at that position for long periods of time and take away his scoring.

Austin agreed with his coach, saying that his confidence is probably the biggest factor responsible for his turnaround from last season. "Coming in as a freshman there's a lot of pressure on you," he said. "Especially playing (in practice) against Ike Diogu who's one of the best in the country. You want to do really good. When you're a sophomore it's less pressure and you're more ready to play." He also credited his weight and muscle gain as an aspect that has helped him this season.

He doesn't take the fact that he started in all of the team's three games for granted, and called it a good surprise. "I'll be fighting Bruno all year for that (starting) spot," he commented. "I'd love to play with Bruno (on the same lineup) and he makes my job easier. There's more versatility on this team and a lot more scorers. Next game I can have two points and Bruno or Kevin could have 20. There's no saying what could happen and it's all about who's hot that night."

Overall, it was a nice performance to kick-off the season. ASU handled an overmatched opponent from the opening tip-off, and while they didn't build on its lead in the second half, they also never put their victory in jeopardy. Next for the maroon and gold is a home game against Alcorn State at Noon on Saturday.

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