Devils Out Slug Pesky Braves

Much like ASU's last game, the Sun Devils played well only in one half. The difference on Saturday afternoon, was that a second half rally was needed to overcome an athletic and talented Alcorn State squad. After trailing for the first thirteen minutes of the last stanza, the maroon and gold tightened their defense and notched their second victory of the season to the tune of 86-74.

From the opening tip-off, it was clear that the visitors from Lorman, Miss. will be anything but the proverbial non-conference pushover opponent. A pair of three-point baskets by Kevin Kruger couldn't negate eight points by Juan Wyatt, with the last two giving the visitors their first lead of the game 13-12 at the 16:46 mark of the first quarter. Allen Morill and the inaugural basket by Jeff Pendergraph who played in his first game ever, awarded the Sun Devils their biggest lead in the first half 24-17 with 9:45 left in the half.

Six points by Bryson Krueger allowed the home team to hang on to a 33-29 mark. However Delvin Thompson helped his team to tie the game, and go down to the locker room with a surprising 39-37 edge.

Craig Austin opened the second half with four straight points, but ASU couldn't overcome Alcorn quite yet, and the Braves had their biggest lead, 52-45, at the 14:40 mark. Kruger was fouled on a three-point attempt, and converted all three points from the charity strip to bring ASU within one point, with 11:38 left in the half. During this period, Kruger was also outstanding on the other end of the court, with key steals and drawing offensive fouls. Fellow guards Antwi Atuahene and Tyrone Jackson did a solid job pressuring the opponent's back court and eliminating jumpers.

A Morill lay-up put ASU ahead for the first time in the second half, 64-63, with 6:26 remaining in the second half. Kruger help mushroom that lead with two consecutive long range baskets, to 74-63 at the 3:26 mark, that gave ASU its first double digit lead, sealed the game's faith and gave the maroon and gold their second victory and a 2-0 mark this season.

Kruger and Krueger had 21 points each. 15 of Kevin Kruger's points came in the second half and were instrumental in the team's comeback. He also had six assists and three steals, and was 4-8 from beyond the arc. Ten of Morill's 14 points came from the line (10-12) and he had a team-high six rebounds. Austin was the fourth and last Sun Devil in double figures with ten. As a team, ASU was 32-40 from the free throw line, with 34 attempts coming in the second half. The Devils forced 25 turnovers, but had 21 of their own. The home team had a 34-27 edge on the boards.

"Our guys did a good job coming back in the second half," Head Coach Rob Evans commented following the game. "First half – defensively we weren't sharp and aggressive as we needed to be. They were moving the basketball on us way too easy and we have to defend to be successful. In the second half, Tyrone Jackson turned it up on the point of the ball, our guys got in the passing lanes and were able to create turnovers. They shot 60% in the first half, and 37% in the second half..

"They did some things to us, that early in the season you don't have a chance to work on," Evans continued. "They were switching all screens, which made it difficult on us. Anytime you see teams that get beat early on, that you think shouldn't be beat, it's because (teams) doing some things that you're not prepared for. You can't prepare for everything this early in the season."

Evans praised the job Kruger did on both ends of the ball, as well as his basketball smarts which allow him to be successful in all phases of the game. "That's just understanding the game," Evans explianed. "Understanding the time and situation. That's something that's tough to teach. He's been around the game a long time, and he knows what's needed and when you need it." Evans added that he felt Jeff Pendergraph has the same skill set in terms of intelligence. "He will give us a lot of things. He's long, athletic and runs the floor well. He'll be in double figures for us before this season is over. He has a chance to be a big time player before he's out of here. The two days we had him in practice, our practices have been a lot better. I have tremendous amount of confidence in him."

Kruger shrugged off his heroics in the second half, and commented that ut was probably the exception, not the rule. "To be honest, it could be me this game, Bryson or Tyrone the next game," he said. "We're not gonna be a team where down the stretch they'll say ‘OK Kevin, you got to shoot now.' I came off some unbelievable screens, and I was open so I shot it. I battled a little with consistency. Against Southern Utah it just didn't fall, and they fell today."

The guard did admit that the Braves were a very tough opponent today. "I think we underestimated their athleticism," he remarked. "They were unbelievably athletic. That caught us by surprise, and that's my fault as far as being a senior and getting everyone ready. Tyrone and Antwi turned on the heat on the ball and made everybody's live that much easier."

"We have a lot of room for improvement, but we're fighting and we'll fight every night," Kruger continued. "We don't have any big names on this team, nobody expects anything out of us. We have to start coming out again with a chip on our shoulder, that attitude that we have something to prove. We can be 20-0, and we'll still be hearing that so and so isn't playing well. That's fine by us. That's our job as seniors to bring that attitude and energy."

If there's any silver lining to this contest, it was that the Braves prepared the Sun Devils for their toughest match thus far this season, a home date with UC-Santa Barbara on Monday night. There's little doubt that the maroon and gold will survive their next opponent without playing two solid halves of basketball. If there ever was a time for a complete game, it will have to occur in 48 hours from now.

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