Another lower-tier opponent took Ned Wulk's Court to give its best shot at Arizona State and hung in there, at least for a while. Once again, the Sun Devils persevered and won handily and once again, their coach wasn't particularly pleased.
Contrast that against last year though, when Herb Sendek watched his team lose five times through December against traditionally inferior opponents and it provides clearer context. The Sun Devils are quite a bit better, but that's not saying much. How good are they? That'll be revealed over the next several months.
But for now, ASU is a respectable 9-2 after defeating stubborn Dartmouth, 61-42 in front of 5,763 at Wells Fargo Arena Saturday. Dartmouth dropped to 2-7.
"I think we have to play better, I really do," Sendek said. "But things are rarely as good or bad as they may first appear and once again, if we shoot the ball better, even on Wednesday night, at any number of intersections of the game it has a completely different feel. I don't care who you're playing, if you add up our last two games from 3 (point range), 5 of 29, and what we shot from the free throw line, you better be really good on defense. And you better be converting a very high percentage of your 2-point field goals because those numbers are clearly outliers."
The Sun Devils again missed a lot of wide open shots from the perimeter, converting just 2 of 14 from 3-point range, with all but one miss coming from a combination of Evan Gordon, Jonathan Gilling and Carrick Felix.
But Felix, who had a career-high 14 rebounds to go with 13 points and five blocks, was excellent in other ways as has frequently been the case in recent weeks.
"I think he just has matured so much," Sendek said of his lone senior starter. "He has already demonstrated, I think, this season that he can maybe not shoot his best but still impact the game. He's already demonstrated that he can weather foul trouble, stay connected and still greatly impact the game. He's already demonstrated that even on a night where he's not getting many shots or scoring he can still have a dramatic impact on the game. And he's playing both ends of the floor."
Dartmouth, behind a Princeton offense that extended possessions, trailed by just seven points before Felix made his biggest mark and helped ASU stretch its lead to 18 just a few minutes later.
"I always come through in the clutch time," Felix said. "Just putting in the work during the summer and my teammates giving me the confidence and encouraging me to play my game."
Once again though, much of the post-game discussion regarded how and why the Sun Devils have allowed much less talented teams to hang around well into the second half of games a number of times already this season.
"Teams like to come in here and try to slow us down," freshman guard Jahii Carson, who led ASU with 18 points and six assists, said. "They don't have a lot of confidence as far as running with us. They try to slow us down and throw different defenses at us to get us off balance. We just got to keep focus and punch them in the face first and let them know we're making a statement early."