Devils Down NAU, Capture Holiday Tournament

Kevin Kruger may have won the Sleep America Holiday Classic tournament MVP award, but he and the rest of his teammates owe a healthy dose of gratitude to Bryson Krueger. The junior scored 16 points in the second half and along with Kruger helped the Sun Devils enter Christmas break with a 72-55 victory over the Lumberjacks.

Arizona State (6-3) found itself down 10-6 at the 15:49 mark of the first half. Three- point baskets by Kevin Kruger and Sylvester Seay (each scored two) put the home team on top 18-14 with 12:45 left in the half. However, NAU (6-6) wasn't about to go away quietly. At the 3:42 mark of the first stanza, the Lumberjacks were only down 29-28, also in thanks to sloppy offensive play by the Sun Devils. Four points by Chad Goldstein gave the home team a little breathing room, leading 35-30 at half.

Much like last night's win against Boise State, the maroon and gold saved their best for the second half. Bryson Krueger completed a three-point play to give his team an 11-point lead 45-34 at the 15:28 mark. NAU would come as close as six points, 53-47 with 9:02 left in the game, but would score only eight points the rest of the way, and were shut out the last three and half minutes of the contest.

Krueger, who was voted to the all-tournament team led all players on the floor with 18 points, shaking off a 0-4 start from the field. Kruger had the most impressive stat line scoring 14 points, grabbing seven boards, dishing out five assists, and collecting three steals. Serge Angounou added ten points and five rebounds. ASU committed only five turnovers in the second half, and had a commanding 42-32 edge on the boards, including 12 offensive rebounds. The visitors were paced by Kyle Landry's 13 points. Their star Kelly Golob was limited to only five.

"We talked at the half about taking care of the basketball," said Head Coach Rob Evans. "We did a good job in the first half, hadn't shot the ball well and missed some easy baskets. In the second half we did a better job defensively on their shooters, and we executed better."

The turnaround in Krueger's performance, according to Evans, was due to one specific adjustment in his game. "He was a lot more aggressive and he was cutting hard," Evans explained. "He's a good shooter, but he has to get open and the only way you get open against good players is if you cut hard. He did a lot better job making himself hard to guard in the second half."

Evans applauded Kevin Kruger for his contributions in various areas, which was remarkable for a player that was wearing a boot earlier in the day and not practicing. Chad Goldstein also played well despite the circumstances, which in his case were flu like symptoms. "This break is coming at a good time," said Evans, "because we have some banged up guys that need some rest." Some of the players left tonight to be with their loved ones for the holiday, and all of them will be back in Tempe on Christmas night, and resume practices on Monday.

Evans praised his team's improvement over the last couple of weeks, and now that statement will be tested with a tough Pac-10 road trip to the state of Washington next week. Suffice to say that expectations of the team are still low. Nevertheless, the maroon and gold can start changing that perception with a road split. A tough mission indeed, but not out of the realm of possibility.

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