The numbers weren’t pleasant: 41 percent shooting, 5 of 20 from beyond the arc and 11 assists. Even free throws clanged more often than usual. Yet it was freshman James Harden who bailed out the Arizona State men’s basketball team more than once Thursday night.
Jeff Pendergraph came out with vengeance in the second half and Derek Glasser found some easy points in transition and at the free-throw line. But when the offense bogged down, the Sun Devils went to Harden.
The end result was a win to open the Pac-10 season, the kind of game void of aesthetics, but the kind of game some on the team felt would have been another loss in prior years.
A win today against Oregon State would be the Sun Devils’ first 2-0 start to Pac-10 play since the 1986-87 season.
ASU coach Herb Sendek compared Harden to former North Carolina State star Julius Hodge for his ability to score and create something from nothing.
“He made some big plays,” Sendek said.
Harden has seen tape of the bigger Hodge, but an ability to ad-lib and force the action in crunch time comes straight from his basketball idol growing up in Los Angeles.
“I got that from Kobe (Bryant),” Harden said. “He’s my man.”
The Sun Devils went seven minutes without a field goal in the second half, but because of their defense, never trailed by more than six points in the final 20 minutes.
Then Harden scored 10 points in the final eight minutes as Pendergraph and Glasser combined for 17 in that span. “We said, 'Forget this. We worked too hard on defense not to score,’ ” Pendergraph said Friday. “You saw what happened when points started to trickle in.”
Harden’s voice (laryngitis) was minimally better before Friday’s practice, but the smile worked fine thanks to Thursday’s performance.
With the shot clock ticking toward trouble, teammates looked to Harden and he didn’t disappoint. Three times with the clock under five seconds, Harden drew two fouls on Malik Hairston and hit a 3-pointer.
ASU is finding its man in crunch time, one coaches and teammates say is as unselfish as they come.
Harden is a freshman, but he has brought an offensive safety net ASU hasn’t had to fall back on in the past when the going-in-the-basket times got tough.
Thursday was the latest example.
Said Harden: “It was, give me the ball and let’s see what I can do.”
Oregon State at Arizona State
When: 2 p.m. today
Where: Wells Fargo Arena
TV/Radio: FSNAZ/KTAR (620 AM)
Records: OSU (6-7, 0-1 Pac-10), ASU (11-2, 1-0)
Arizona State — Following Thursday’s win, ASU is 10-27 in Pac-10 home games in the past four years. The Sun Devils have the same record on the road in league play during that time. Only one time in the past 16 attempts has ASU swept a Pac-10 weekend home series, and that was the Oregon schools in 2005. After starting out with ASU at 6-19, Herb Sendek is 13-5 in the past 18 games.
Oregon State — The Beavers were preseason picks to finish last in the Pac-10, and were the only team without a winning record in nonconference play. None of this matters to ASU, which lost twice to OSU last year. Oregon St. played Arizona tougher than the 76-63 score indicates from Tucson on Thursday night. The Beavers led 42-35 with 12 minutes remaining before Chase Budinger got rolling for UA. The Beavers played Thursday without junior C.J. Giles, a transfer from Kansas, due to disciplinary reasons. He’s expected back in the lineup today.