With freshmen like Christian Polk and Jerren Shipp on the roster, the future is bright for the Arizona State basketball team. The present may be a bit bleak at times, though, especially against veteran-laden teams like Northern Arizona.
The Lumberjacks overcame scintillating debuts by Polk and Shipp and the hype surrounding coach Herb Sendek’s first game at ASU to upset the Sun Devils 75-71 Monday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
“It helps to have a bunch of guys that have a lot of maturity and they know how to win ballgames,” NAU coach Mike Adras said of his defending Big Sky Conference champions.
A letter from Sendek in Monday’s edition of ASU’s campus newspaper, the State Press, encouraged students to create a “college basketball atmosphere” by attending the game.
They responded by filling the lower-tier student section (one student tried to dub it the Herb Garden, though it’s doubtful that name will stick) and contributing to an announced crowd of 10,267. Last year’s opening-night crowd was 5,011.
What Monday night’s crowd saw were huge debut performances from Polk, a graduate of Glendale Deer Valley High, and Shipp and a home team that at one point had four freshmen on the floor at once.
“The good news and the bad news is the freshmen led the way,” Sendek said. “Jerren and Christian both had coming-out games. We hope to have more balance in the future I assure you.”
Polk hit his first four shots, then missed a pair of 3s and a baseline jumper on the same possession. It didn’t matter. He got the ball back and scored on a layup to become the 10th freshman in ASU history, and first since Ike Diogu in 2002, to hit double digits in his debut.
He led the Sun Devils with 16 points at halftime and finished with 22, but he wasn’t the only one to break Jamal Faulkner’s 16-year-old record of 18 points by an ASU freshman in his college debut.
Shipp became the 11th player on the list when he scored on a pretty reverse layup five minutes into the second half and made the record-breaker on a 10-foot jumper with just mre than six minutes to play in the game.
Shipp finished with 23 points.
The early energy provided by Polk and the curious crowd carried the Sun Devils to a nine-point lead five minutes into the game. Ten minutes later the energy was sapped when Gilbert Highland High graduate Ryan McCurdy staked NAU to its first lead on a one-handed transition dunk.
The Lumberjacks closed out the half on a 34-19 run to lead 39-33 at the break.
NAU led by as many as nine points in the second half, but Shipp sparked a 13-4 run that tied the game at 56. The Lumberjacks answered by scoring on 10 of their final 11 possessions and hitting 6-of-6 free throws down the stretch to put away the Sun Devils.
Senior starters Stephen Sir, Tyrone Bazy and Ruben Boykin Jr. combined to score 44 of NAU’s points.