After hurdling a row of courtside seats while saving a tipped pass, Arizona State’s Sylvester Seay had two choices. He could take the easy way back by simply re-entering the court the way he exited it. Or he could dash behind the scorer’s table to the other end of the floor in an attempt to get in on the developing fast break.
His decision showed that the Sun Devils were not overlooking lightly regarded Northern Colorado in the wake of Saturday’s upset of Iowa.
Seay smacked a stray folding chair out of his way, sprinted the length of the scorers’ table and hopped over the courtside seats and back into play just as Antwi Atuahene was fouled on a layup attempt.
It was one of several hustle plays by ASU during a first-half defensive stand that allowed the home team to cruise to a 66-51 win over the Bears before 4,836 fans Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
“We have to get on the floor for everything because that’s points right there,” freshman Christian Polk said. “It’s 50-50 plays that are important. You have to win the 50-50 plays.”
The Sun Devils held the Bears scoreless for more than seven minutes as they stretched a 23-14 lead to 23 points with three minutes to play in the first half. After that, the lead didn’t dip below 17 points until the final minutes as ASU improved its record to 4-2.
The Sun Devils jumped passing lanes, blocked shots and rushed to loose balls while forcing 11 turnovers, gaining a rebounding advantage of 18-10 and limiting Northern Colorado to 11-of-26 (42.3 percent) shooting in the first half.
Atuahene came off the bench to collect a career-high 10 rebounds and Jeff Pendergraph claimed he took five charges himself.
“The team that plays the hardest — makes the most hustle plays, gets the loose balls, controls the boards — usually wins the game,” Atuahene said.
So much for an emotional letdown.
Offensively, ASU picked up where it left off against Iowa. After outscoring the Hawkeyes 19-4 down the stretch of that game, ASU scored on its first four and 10 of its first 11 possessions against Northern Colorado.
By the time the stretch ended, ASU led 23-10. The Sun Devils’ first nine field goals were assisted.
Polk and Serge Angounou led the way early. Polk scored 10 of his game-high 22 and Angounou scored five during the run. Angounou finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds to tally his second double-double in as many games.
The Bears didn’t match the Sun Devils’ outburst until they notched their 23rd point with less than a minute remaining before halftime. By then they trailed by 20 points.
“It’s the next game and in college basketball your career goes by like that,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said he told his players. “You have to have the capacity, the mind-set, to get excited about every game.”
BONUS SHOT: The letter of intent for 6-foot-6 swingman Rihards Kuksiks of Florida finally arrived at ASU last week, completing the Sun Devils’ four-member recruiting class. Kuksiks’ letter was delayed because it required the signature of his mother who resides in Latvia.