There were no wide eyes on the faces of freshmen James Harden or Ty Abbott in their maiden voyage into the Pac-10 Conference Thursday night.
Those were reserved for Oregon star Malik Hairston, who couldn’t believe he was duped by two straight Harden pump fakes late in the first half with the shot clock winding down — a move that Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said reminded him of former North Carolina State star and current Denver Nuggets guard Julius Hodge.
Twice, Harden took the ball with less than five seconds left on the shot clock, and twice he calmly used every single tick to draw in Hairston.
“He has a gift for that,” Sendek said.
Later, Harden let it wind down again before nailing a 3-pointer with 4:51 remaining to give the Sun Devils their first lead since early in the first half.
“That’s what he lives for,” said Derek Glasser, a teammate of Harden’s at Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif. “He loves it.”
Harden and Abbott combined to play all but seven of a possible 80 minutes, and while they hit just 8 of 24 shots from the field, their contributions went beyond that.
Abbott came out blazing, making three of his first four shots for seven points in the first four minutes to give ASU some life while it had trouble establishing Jeff Pendergraph down low.
He didn’t make another bucket, but Sendek happily cited Abbott’s willingness to continue playing defense and rebound even while the shots weren’t falling.
“It’s really a credit to the kind of makeup he has,” Sendek said.
Harden led the team with 20 points and seven rebounds, all while battling laryngitis that limited him from talking after the game. Abbott, too, battled illness.
But they weren’t about to miss this game, a Pac-10 opening victory that already puts them halfway to last year’s conference win total with 17 games left.
Abbott said the older veterans gave him an idea of what to expect, and once he hit the court everything came naturally.
“It’s just basketball,” Abbott said. “I just try go out there and do what needs to be done.”