At his press conference Monday, Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said his team needed "basics, basics, basics" and "fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals" but at halftime of Tuesday's 64-52 victory over San Jose State, he implored his team to play more tenacious defense, defense, defense.
The Sun Devils (2-2) came out in a full court press to start the second half, with Christian Polk, Derek Glasser and Serge Angounou starting the period, after beginning the game on the bench.
After creating just three turnovers in the first half, when Sendek said he felt as though the Spartans (0-4) were too "comfortable" on the floor, the Sun Devils forced 13 turnovers in the second half, and generally played some of their best, most inspired basketball of the young season.
They took what was a 30-29 lead at intermission, and, with the aid of a 17-5 run, pushed the game seemingly out of reach at 54-37 with 8:37 to go.
"He just told us, 'I can't play for you guys,'" forward Jeff Pendergraph said of Sendek's halftime rant. "He told us it was up to us. We took that to heart."
Pendergraph had 10 of his 12 points and 11 of his 12 rebounds in the game's first half, but the Sun Devils did not taken advantage of that performance in a manner that reflected on the scoreboard due to the somewhat lethargic defense, and 1-of-9 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
"Our identity has to be carved on the defensive end of the floor," Sendek said afterwards. "We really focused almost exclusively on defense during halftime."
It certainly didn't help that the Sun Devils shot the ball much better in the second half, making 5-of-10 3-point field goals in the period.
Freshman guard Christian Polk led all scorers with 14 points, classmate Jerren Shipp had 11 points, and Sylvester Seay, who played poised and effectively in four-plus minutes of action in the first half and followed it up with a nice showing at both ends after the break, also had 11 points.
Allen Morill and walk-on Steve Jones started for the Sun Devils, according to Sendek, for their solid work ethic in practice, and Pendergraph said the two players "epitomize the tough guy."
It was the third different starting lineup in four games for the Sun Devils, who have transitioned to a flex offense from the Princeton-principles most had expected, due to the personnel on-hand.
The team played its most patient basketball of the season offensively, consistently waiting for high percentage shots, whether versus a man-to-man or zone defense.
It was, by far, the team's best performance of the season, particularly in a 15-minute stretch of the second half.
"We were at a crossroads," Pendergraph said. "We sort of cleared some things up in practice. Coach told us we can't do things individually."
It appears to be a message that is beginning to resonate.