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January 19, 2013

Offense escapes Sun Devils in rivalry loss

When Jahii Carson went to the bench, his team's chances at a huge rivalry win went with him. Game over.

The freshman Arizona State point guard picked up his fourth foul with 9:50 remaining, reaching in to grab Arizona point guard Mark Lyons on a dribble drive with the Sun Devils trailing 46-44. The Wildcats quickly went on a 7-0 run to stretch their lead to nine points before Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek could get Carson back in the game.

It was too late. Arizona never again led by fewer than that margin Saturday en route to a comfortable 71-54 win on the road at sold out Wells Fargo Arena -- officially 10,900 in attendance.

"We tried to give us a couple possessions with him on the sideline but at that point we were down and then they did a good job of attacking him with four fouls and he was understandably cautious and I thought defensively that was difficult on us," Sendek said.

Arizona State dropped to 14-4 overall and 3-2 in Pac-12 play while Arizona improved to 16-1, 4-1 in the league.

After Carson's fourth foul, Lyons went to work. With Carson hesitant to pick up his fifth foul, Lyons relentlessly attacked the basket, making four layups and scoring 10 of his game-high 24 points before it was over. Arizona sophomore guard Nick Johnson added 19 points in the win.

But it was on the other end of the floor where Arizona coach Sean Miller felt his team was able to earn the victory. The Wildcats forced ASU into 17 turnovers and 39.1 percent shooting from the field.

"That was a hard earned road victory, and we knew that Arizona State had an excellent team," Miller said. "I felt that during the game. One of the reasons why we ended up winning like we did is, our defense really returned to us tonight. Sure they had some shots that they look at as they have to make, but for the most part I thought our defense fueled us.

Importantly, the Sun Devils' bench, already thin, became nearly non-existent an hour before the game when it was announced that backup senior guard Chris Colvin, wouldn't play due to an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Colvin, frequently the team's lone reserve guard who plays for ASU off the bench, would have been on the floor during Carson's minutes on the bench. Instead, sophomore wing Bo Barnes played eight minutes without collecting a point, rebound or assist.

"It's very disappointing," Carson said of Colvin's suspension. "Chris Colvin is a dog, he's a rough guy. When I step out and I have four fouls he can go out there and guard the guards, he can guard Solomon Hill, he can guard guys who are tougher for us to guard when we have fouls. I can't foul, I'm going to have five fouls. It puts us in a difficult position."

Sendek wouldn't say when Colvin would return to action, adding that he "didn't know" why the Chicago native failed to do what was necessary to be in uniform Saturday.

"Chris plays a really important role for us," Sendek said. "We rely on his defensive toughness and ball handling and playmaking. He's having a really good senior year for us. We'll get through this and come back."

There were other things on the court that could have given ASU a fighting chance even with the absence of Colvin and the foul troubles of Carson. Senior Carrick Felix, among the most productive and efficient players in the league, went 1 of 8 from the field and had seven turnovers. He finished with five points and five rebounds.

"He's been having a sensational senior year and today wasn't his day in any way, shape or form," Sendek said. "For us to absorb that kind of game from Carrick is a lot to ask from our team right now because we depend on him in so many ways."

Sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling had just six points and four rebounds on five shot attempts for ASU, and junior center Jordan Bachynski had just three points on five attempts and six rebounds.

Felix and Gilling were each scoreless at the end of the first half, and yet ASU trailed by a narrow 29-26 margin, mostly due to the play of Carson and junior guard Evan Gordon, both of whom were in double figures at intermission.

"Evan played an excellent game offensively," Sendek said. "Even defensively, had the steal to give us a little momentum going into the break. Offensively, we were pretty much limited to what Jahii and Evan were able to muster this afternoon. Defensively, the turnovers hurt us, the drive hurt us and their backcourt along with Solomon Hill were tough matchups for us especially their ability to attack Jahii with four fouls."

Carson finished with a team-high 22 points and Gordon had 14, which included a much quieter second half as the Wildcats put the game out of reach.


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