Torrid Shooting Tames Mustangs

Granted, the shaky second half defense and struggles from the free throw line, are blemishes in ASU's 91-71 exhibition win over Western New Mexico. On the other hand, their 45.5% shooting percentage behind the arc and 63% overall from the field, are stats that will put a smile on any Sun Devil fan and give hope that this 2007-08 campaign will be more successful than its predecessor.

"I think we continue to make good progress on the offensive end," said Head Coach Herb Sendek. "Our guys are doing a pretty good job of picking up some of our concepts. I'm very disappointed in our defensive effort especially in the second half tonight. So we're gonna certainly have to seize every opportunity to get better over the next so many days before we head over to Hawaii."

The Sun Devils, who were missing the injured Eric Boateng (replaced by Antwi Atuahene in the starting lineup) struggled a bit with the Mustangs when they played their starting five. Reserves Jerren Shipp, Christian Polk, and Rihards Kuksiks each drained a three-point basket in three consecutive offensive possessions, to give ASU an 18-9 edge at the 12:34 mark of the second half and spark an offense that remained red hot for the rest of the way.

The visitors from New Mexico were stroking the roundball from downtown themselves against the maroon and gold's signature zone defense. Nonetheless, they were never able to bring the deficit under double digits the rest of the way. ASU's James Harden registered 16 of his 21 points in the opening stanza, and his one-handed dunk ended the half with the home team leading 45-31.

In the second half the Mustangs poured in 40 points, shooting 53.8% from the field (6-14 from three-point territory), but ultimately were just trading baskets with their hosts. Atuahene scored 11 points in the last twenty minutes, and ASU overall shot at a 65.4% clip from the field – higher than any contest from last season. At the 11:08 mark of the second half, the Devils had their largest lead of the night, 28 points, as they held a 73-45 edge. As mentioned, poor effort on defense allowed Western New Mexico to score 26 points in the last ten plus minutes of the game to ASU's 18 during the same time period.

Harden's 21-point effort led all players on the floor. He was 9-11 from the field and 3-4 behind the arc. Nonetheless, he continued to struggle from the charity stripe missing all three attempts and contributing to ASU's 54.2% (13-24) from the free throw line. Polk was perfect from the field 6-6, including a couple of three-point baskets, and tallied 14 points coming off the bench. Atuahene (13) and Jeff Pendergraph (10) were the only other Sun Devils in double figures on Wednesday night. Harden also paced all players with his eight rebounds. Casey Crevelone was the leading scorer for the Mustangs with 20 points.

This game concluded ASU's two-game exhibition portion of their schedule. Up next for Sendek's squad is the regular season opener, a match up against Illinois in the EA Maui Invitational tournament. The game will take place only 12 days from now, which wasn't by design. "We really tried to get a game before we went out Maui," said Sendek, "but we were just not fortunate enough to be able to hook up with anybody and get that accomplished. That's just the way the cookie crumbles."

Sendek added that he felt no apprehension over this layover. "Sometimes you try to read so much into this stuff," he remarked, "and how do you really know? How do you ever know? I hear it all the time, especially in football. ‘A week off. Is that a good thing? A bad thing?' Who knows? And it probably doesn't matter one way or another."

Sendek quoted a coach from his youth, Frank Marino, who didn't have much patience for preparations, drills, etc. and pragmatically preached "Just play good in the games." The ASU coach said that he doesn't feel ready to begin the regular season, so the week and half hiatus could prove beneficial for the maroon and gold…

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