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November 9, 2013

Sun Devils get easy win in season opener

Arizona State needed a wake-up call. It needed more than a spark to ignite its intensity. It needed a leader. It needed the firecracker pre-season All-American sophomore point guard Jahii Carson.

After Carson nailed his only three-pointer of the night from the top of the key with 12:56 left in the first half, Carson let out a deafening yell, "Let's go, let's go!"

He was sending a message and his teammates delivered.

Sparking the team's passion and getting the home crowd up on its feet, a 3-pointer by junior forward Jonathan Gilling with 7:42 left in the first half ignited a 22-8 run for ASU to end the first half en route to what would become an 96-61 ASU win over University of Maryland, Baltimore County at Wells Fargo Arena.

"I think we played very well," Carson said. "Everybody got in and contributed. The bigs played excellent rebounding the ball. I think we need to run a little bit more, but that comes with us playing with each other more. I definitely think we have a lot of work to do, but I'm definitely impressed with how everybody played tonight."

All five starters were in double figures, with Carson finishing with 19 points and five assists and standout Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall scoring 19 points and having two rebounds, two assists and four steals in his first ASU appearance.

Gilling had 10 points and six rebounds, junior college transfer Shaquielle McKissic had 11 points in a starting role and senior center Jordan Bachynski had his sixth-career double-double, tallying 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Even though Marshall was the only ASU player on the court operating at less than full strength as he recovers from Valley Fever, he looked the most energized of anyone from the get-go.

"I thought Jermaine really played well tonight," Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek said. "In the first half, I thought his activity on a couple possessions really was a catalyst for us. He shot the ball well, made his free throws. A good, solid performance for Jermaine."

With UMBC employing a zone defense, ASU had troubles early, only leading 9-8 going into the first media timeout. However, after adjusting more to the zone, the players got more comfortable with their assignments and into a rhythm.

The only thing disrupting ASU's rhythm was the combined 51 fouls throughout the game. Sendek and his coaching staff got their first look at a subject they've been discussing all offseason: the changes in rules that curtail hand checking and how it would affect the players this season.

"If you add up these free throws you are either good at math or need a calculator," Sendek said. "It definitely extends the time of the game. Players and coaches are going to have to adjust. I think we got a little bit of a sense that the game is being called pretty close."

The good sign for the Sun Devils is that the team was 75 percent at the free-throw line, going to the line 44 times and converting 33 of them, a step ahead of last year's sub-par free-throw percentage of 64.9 percent.

"Last year [free throws] probably cost as many games as any single factor," Sendek said. "Just about every game except two in the conference that we lost last year were close games. I mean close, like the last possession or two. And if you looked at our free throw shooting we were last in the league. So yes, it's good to see our guys go to the line and convert at a much higher percentage tonight, especially as much as we were there."

Additionally, throughout the offseason, Sendek had constantly been preaching for a need to rebound better and ASU delivered with a 50-35 rebounding edge that was lead by Bachynski.

In addition to Bachynski, Carson and Marshall's big games, ASU's reserves showed up in the latter half of the game to put on display the depth that the ASU coaching staff has been raving about the last couple months.

Starting midway through the second period, ASU went on a 15-0 run in 2:55 to go up by 26 points, 75-49, with 7:30 left in the game.

Entering mid-way through the 15-0 spurt, freshman guard Chance Murray knocked down two field goals and had both an offensive and defensive rebound. Murray ended with seven points, four assists and four rebounds.

Including Murray up to that point, Sendek had used 11 different players on his roster. With 4:25 left in the game, Sendek tried out another player, this time it was junior college transfer Sai Tummala, totaling the different number of players used in the game at twelve.

"There just hasn't been a lot of separation between guys every day in practice," Sendek said. "There has been a lot of flip-flopping. I think we are going to play several guys, maybe more than we have in the past. We have some first-year players we are counting on."

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