"The turnover differential for us was a real advantage," Sendek admitted. "Without it we don't win the game. We only shot 36 percent. Especially in the first half, we left a lot of points out there, point-blank layups, open threes…and our guys still focused enough on defense to tweak out a six-point lead (at halftime).
"That's not always easy to do, because sometimes there's a little residual effect. The other thing that was significant for us we left a lot of points at the free throw line. We were 11 out of 19. I don't know how many front ends of one and ones we missed, maybe three or four. So that's like being 11 out of 23 at the line. You're not leaving yourself a lot of margin for error if you're gonna navigate that way."
The Sun Devils were scoreless for the first four plus minutes of the game, and only at the 8:34 mark of the game were they able to enjoy their first lead of the contest, 15-14, at the 8:34 mark. A 7-0 run in the last two minutes of the period gave the hosts a 28-22 edge at the half.
The maroon and gold built on their momentum in the second stanza, and held the Aztecs to just six points in the first nine minutes as they built a commanding 46-28 lead at the 10:56 mark. The Sun Devils withstood 24-9 run the rest of the way.
"That evaporated really quick," Sendek commented concerning his team's 18-point lead in the second half. "I don't think we played practically smart. We had a couple of shots that didn't go down that would have given us just a little bit of breathing room.
"They played really well, they tightened down on us. But during that stretch we were trying to milk some time because Eric (Boateng) had four (fouls), Rik (Kuksiks) had four and Derek (Glasser) was hopping along with his ankle as best he could. So we were kind of beat up at that point with three of our key guys in turmoil."
Rihards Kuksiks and Jamelle McMillan led ASU with 12 points each. Ty Abbott had 11 as did Derek Glasser who also had five assists to tie ASU's all-time record in that category. Eric Boateng had nine rebounds. The Sun Devils withstood a 41-26 deficit on the boards, and were 8 of 26 from beyond the arc.
The value of this win from an RPI standpoint, and consequently a NCAA tournament resume, cannot be overstated. Furthermore, it was an important test for the Sun Devils who begin Pac-10 play at the end of this month.
"We have a really important stretch here," Sendek said. "Today was the first of three games in five days. We're going to have a real gut check. I thought our crowd really helped us along today, probably our best crown of the year.
"I know everybody is ready to zip some eggnog, but we have two more important games and it would be so great to blow the roof off of this place at Monday at 6:30 and 2:00 on Wednesday. So spread the word and let's have a great festive atmosphere before the conference starts."