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November 29, 2012Around this time last year Arizona State was losing to Fairfield and DePaul in the same week and Nevada, Northern Arizona, Southern Miss and Fresno State not long thereafter en route to a forgettable 10 win disaster of a season, Herb Sendek's second worst as a head coach.
So to hear Sendek speak unhappily -- almost disgustedly, in fact -- about his team's comfortable 67-54 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff Wednesday in front of a largely subdued 4,545 at Wells Fargo Arena is a sign that expectations have been recalibrated in a way that should please those who remain from a noticeably retreating fanbase.
Yes, there are signs of life in Tempe, even though it's going to take more, and perhaps much more, to coax a return of the Herbivores shirts that once adorned many in a student section that now sits idle; the occupation of courtside seats which are now largely unoccupied.
But the Sun Devils are 5-1 again for the first time since 2009-10, a year in which they finished second in the Pac-10 and won 22 games, and yet their coach sounded almost remorseful about their latest effort.
"We weren't very sharp in any phase of the game tonight and I was very disappointed in the way we played," Sendek said.
There's no joy in beating the 1-5 Golden Lions by double digits apparently, even as teams around the country are losing such games on a nightly basis, including then-No. 11 UCLA at home to Cal Poly on Sunday.
"We respect everyone and they did a lot of good things but as the coach of Arizona State, I can only speak to our team, and what we can control, and as far as that goes, I expect better from our men," Sendek said.
Facing a zone for the first time all season, the Sun Devils were content to stand behind the 3-point line and chuck their way into a narrow halftime 27-25 lead and even continued with the tact through the early portions of the second half before eventually settling down.
A 17-0 run through the middle of the period, in which forward Jonathan Gilling hit two 3-pointers and guard Evan Gordon hit his lone 3-pointer, turned a two point deficit into a 54-39 lead at the 9:11 mark that gave ASU a stranglehold on the game.
But Sendek was still looking like a coach who wanted to choke someone at the post-game press conference, lamenting a season-high 18 turnovers despite a relatively pedestrian pace, not to mention poor shot selection through two-thirds of the contest.
"Turnovers were a big issue," Sendek said. "It certainly wasn't the only issue. But just careless with the basketball."
Senior wing Carrick Felix was a lone bright spot for the Sun Devils with a game-high 21 points on 8 of 12 from the field, not to mention six rebounds and four assists. Felix moved well in transition and found seams in the Arkansas-Pine Bluff defense in the second half.
"Just playing slow, waiting for things to come to me, and we have a point guard like Jahii Carson, he's finding me at good spots," Felix said. "He's finding me and so is everybody else. So I'm just playing my game."
Carson had five assists -- two to Felix -- in the game's first 10 minutes, but stalled out a bit against the Golden Lions' zone, finishing with eight assists, seven turnovers and a 2 of 8 performance from the field that equaled nine points.
Memories of the individual performances won't linger, however, and neither will the game's nuances. It was a win in the record books, and many others could be on tap in the near future.
ASU has the likes of Sacramento State, Hartford, Cal State Northridge and DePaul rolling into town in the next two weeks, and could equal its entire win total from last season by mid-December if it takes care of business like its coach expects. Somewhere in there is the real story.
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