It was good enough to win, and that meant it was good enough for the 15th-ranked Arizona State men’s basketball team. Sometimes it was silky-smooth. Other times sluggish.
But the kinks have time to be worked out, and progress is easier following victories such as the 80-64 win against Mississippi Valley State before an announced crowd of 8,590.
At tipoff, the Wells Fargo Arena crowd was roughly 85 percent full in the lower bowl, with crowds stretching a few rows into the upper bowl.
It gradually thinned out as the game moved along, but whether early or late leaving, Sun Devils fans were satisfied, and, in case they’d forgotten, were quickly reminded of James Harden’s talents.
Harden and Co. made it a rough debut for Mississippi Valley State coach Sean Woods, a former Kentucky player when Arizona State coach Sendek was an assistant there under Rick Pitino.
The Sun Devils (1-0) returned their top seven scorers from last season, and it showed early.
ASU’s first two possessions of the game were dunks, and the combination of sophomores Harden, Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks piled on the rest of the way.
“Obviously, six, seven of us have played with each other this whole last year and now we come out kind of on the same page, want the same thing, going toward the same goals, so we’re all in the same place,” said Abbott, who had 18 points and eight rebounds.
Harden was, well, the Harden of last season, only with a bit more muscle.
The preseason All-American lefty showed off his improved right hand with lethal results.
His 16 first-half points were of typical efficiency (5 of 7 shooting) and his slashing led to either his 16 free throw attempts on the night, or easy passes for teammates.
Not much changed after halftime, as Harden continued to lower his head and bully his way to the basket.
He finished with 24 points and 10 assists, the third double-double of his 35-game college career.
“I guess that’s how I always am, I’m a playmaker,” Harden said.
“I get my teammates shots, try to create for them as much as possible. Yeah, that’s pretty much my game.”
Kuksiks was the biggest recipient of the futile Harden-chasing early.
The Latvian-native hit three 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 12 points, while Jeff Pendergraph had 10 following a quiet first half.
ASU led 39-23 at halftime, but the Delta Devils made a quick 9-0 run after intermission to cut the deficit to 41-32, 48-37 and 50-41 early in the second half.
But two of the Delta Devils’ 20 turnovers led to Derek Glasser and Abbott layups, the lead was back to 54-41 and a lot more gimmees followed.
One down, and after Sendek rattled off a long list of chores (rebounding, ball movement, second-half defense) which need addressing, there’s a long journey to go.
“Suffice to say we have a great deal of work to do, and we’ll continue to roll up our sleeves and try to get better,” Sendek said.