It's finals week on campus at Arizona State, but the basketball team didn't have to worry about being presented with a particularly challenging exam.
With five practice days to recover from their first three-game losing streak since February of last year, the Sun Devils had a chance Saturday to show progress Saturday against Big South Conference also-ran Gardner-Webb.
They earned a passing grade, improving to 5-4 in the process, but it wasn't anything resembling an outstanding performance.
ASU used a 15-2 run over the game's final 6:52 to make the final score a lopsided looking 71-48 in front of 5,216 at Wells Fargo Arena, but for most of the afternoon allowed Gardner-Webb to stay within arm's length due in part to sloppy ball protection.
"[Turnovers have] been a nemesis for us," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "We've turned the ball over way too much and 15 in a game like today is entirely too many. We've been bitten by that in any number of games this year. We've got to do a much better job of not turning the basketball over."
Despite being clearly outmatched athletically and playing in its third time zone over the last five days, Gardner-Webb got a lot of quality looks at the basket but missed 13 shots within several feet of the rim to keep it from playing the Sun Devils closer.
The ASU defense, did, however, generate 17 turnovers and hold the Runnin' Buldogs (6-7) to 30.4 percent shooting. The Sun Devils did a better job playing team defense and getting into passing lanes at times, where they were able to get many deflections.
"I think it was a big thing we held them to 48 (points)," ASU senior guard Ty Abbott said. "We've been struggling defensively, that's been obvious. We had a hard defensive week and it's good to see that translate to the court."
Abbott led ASU with 18 points while sophomore Trent Lockett and senior Rihards Kuksiks also reached into double figures with 16 and 15 points, respectively. Freshman Kyle Cain had eight points and 11 rebounds.
But offense continues to be difficult to come by for a team that has averaged in the low 60s thus far, several baskets below their output in each of the last two seasons.
"It's still a learning process for all of us," Abbott said of the team's offense. "There's no doubt we're trying to figure out how to get each other in successful moments. We've got one guy with Trent, we know what to do with him. Everybody knows, we're going to get him the ball and let him create but we've got to figure out how to do it with the rest of us."
Brian McNair and Jon Moore led Gardner-Webb with 11 points apiece.
With the Sun Devils not having multiple scorers who can generate their own offense, Sendek said that end of the floor isn't going to be easy.
"I don't know that this team is going to be a team that doesn't have to work and really be a force of one on offense and work together to get good shots," Sendek said. "And that's okay. Different teams have to do it different ways. This is a team that's really going to have to help each other to get good shots."
ASU's bench struggled in more limited opportunities than in recent games. It was held scoreless in the first half, with nobody playing more than sophomore Ruslan Pateev and freshman Chanse Creekmur, who earned four minutes apiece.
In the second half, the Sun Devil reserves got a little more action, especially as the game got away from Gardner-Webb late, but Creekmur was the only one to hit a field goal, making two late 3-pointers to finish with six points.
"It's been tough for them, just being able to get into a rotation because we're obviously trying to win and so we have to have the guys out there who really know the stuff," Abbott said. "That's been the biggest thing is trying to have the guys that know the things and also integrate the guys that are new, so we're trying to find a balance there."
Sendek said it's normal for players seeing limited action to feel pressure to impact the game when they're on the court, but that it's important they manage that properly.
"Sometimes you make a real positive impact with the shots you don't take," Sendek said. "But I don't think [feeling pressure is] uncommon or unnatural especially for guys who are used to having the ball and in many cases in high school they were volume shooters and this is a whole new place for them to be. So it is a mental transition and the key is just to stay with it. Look at a guy like Trent. And there's other guys who don't have that same approach and it's been my experience those guys have a much harder time over the long haul."