LAS VEGAS -- With every wave of his hand to teammate Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State sophomore Jahii Carson was saying goodbye to his opponent.
Whether he was calling for Bachysnki on high ball screens or letting him know he wanted an isolation, UNLV had no answer for Carson as he scored or assisted on a majority of Sun Devil basket down the stretch on his way to a career-best 40 points in a come-from-behind 86-80 win at Thomas & Mack Arena.
Carson's show - as good as any on the nearby Vegas Strip - enabled the Sun Devils to improve to 4-0 and dropped the Rebels to 2-2.
"What can you say other than wow, exclamation point, exclamation point," ASU coach Herb Sendek said of his star point guard's performance. "I was saying on the radio, to the best of my recollection I've coached two guys who have done that, James (Harden's 40 point effort in November of 2008) against UTEP and now this. Amazing, utterly amazing."
In his crucial spurt, Carson had 26 second half points on 9 of 13 shooting as ASU turned a seven point deficit into the game's seventh tie at 10:42 remaining in a three minute span that saw Carson have back-to-back 3-pointers, an assist to Bachynski and a driving basket.
Following that 7-0 run the game remained close, with neither team leading by more than two baskets until a quick 5-0 spurt by ASU which included two key field goals by senior guard Jermaine Marshall, gave the Sun Devils an 81-74 lead with 3:15 remaining.
From there, ASU's defensive decision to go under ball screens in an effort to keep UNLV from the driving point blank looks at the basket it had been getting all game worked. Second chance opportunities were limited - five in the second half in total compared with 12 in the first half for the Rebels - and the home team couldn't draw closer than five points the rest of the way.
Marshall finished with 20 points including 14 in the second half, none more important than a fast break basket bucket that came after he blocked a shot at the other end. He also hit a big 3-pointer that came via a Carson assist - one of seven on the night - that gave the Sun Devils a five point lead it wouldn't relinquish at 6:14 remaining.
"He's been so unselfish this year, in fact I wrote him a little note earlier this week commending him on how he's swinging the ball, moving the ball, making the right pass and play," Sendek said of Carson. "He scored a lot tonight but it didn't feel like he was monopolizing the ball or a one man show. He scored very much in the framework of our team."
ASU was out-rebounded by UNLV by 12 in the first half but had five more than the Rebels in the second half, another key stat, with freshman wing Egor Koulechov coming off the bench to grab 10 boards and provide a lot of hustle plays. Sendek said Koulechov wasn't nervous on the big stage and his team wouldn't have won without the Israeli citizen's help.
"I've played basketball so long now," Koulechov said. "I've played for the national team for however long I can remember every summer since I can remember. And it's like that too, over the summer sometimes we get big crowds and it really helps as a freshman, coming out to such a great atmosphere here.
"This is the very time I've played against teams that athletic. Usually European teams are more big, physical teams. Those guys were long and athletic and it was tough for us to be honest. Those two guys combined for 30 rebounds but it was great for us, a great win."
Bachynski also had 15 rebounds in addition to scoring more decisively around the rim than any time last year and finishing with 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting for his fourth straight double-double, and even though fellow frontcourt starter Jonathan Gilling went 0 of 8 from the field, he had eight rebounds and six assists without a turnover.
But Carson's performance is the one everyone will remember, and it wasn't the first time he's put on his magic act here. ASU played in a Holiday tournament last year against Arkansas and Creighton and again in the conference post-season tournament against Stanford and UCLA. Carson averaged 26 points in those games.
"You just make sure he keeps getting the ball, Koulechov said. "He's hands down the best player I've played with in my career so you want to just keep it going and you know he's going to do good things."
The unsung stat of the night may have been just seven turnovers for the Sun Devils against 18 assisted baskets. When they weren't getting a lot of rebounds, the ability to take care of the ball, especially in the first half when they had just three turnovers, provided more possessions and equaled out the field goal attempts for both teams.
"It's a great win for our confidence because most teams we play aren't going to be this athletic, not going to have these shot blockers or as many guys who can make plays, so if we can beat these guys it's good for our confidence," Carson said.