The Sun Devils returned to the hardwood on Saturday night hoping to improve upon last year's dismal performance. With a number of newcomers, including Carson who sat out the last year, ASU wasted very little time trying to convince fans that this year's team . A dominating performance by junior big man Jordan Bachynski and a fast paced offense helped pave the way for the Sun Devils as they cruised to a victory in the opener.
"Tonight was a big game for us," said Sun Devil Head Coach Herb Sendek afterwards. "I know that might not register for somebody who is a casual observer because it's November 10th and most people are still focused on football on a Saturday like this in November, but for us this was a really important game. We wanted to get off to a good start. We wanted to make sure we took care of business at home."
Arizona State did just that behind the relentless effort of Bachynski, who dominated from start to finish, totaling 17 points and 12 rebounds while setting a school record for blocked shots in a game with nine. Bachynski just narrowly missed becoming the first Sun Devil to register a triple-double as he picked up where he left off from last season when he led the team down the stretch.
"I just think he continues to get better," remarked Sendek. "I think we saw him really take some positive strides the last third of the season last year and it was good to see him start in that same direction again this evening. I think Jordan would be the first to tell you that he discovered that about himself last season that when he's aggressive and has that edgy mind-set, he has a chance to play his best. And when he's more passive, it just doesn't work out.”
"It was definitely not easy," said Bachynski after the game on how he played leading up to the team's opener. "Coach will tell you there have been tough days in practice where I'm not mentally there. There have been lapses in my mental focus but that's one thing that I've been working on; just to come every game, every practice, and work hard. That's my goal, to play every game with a mindset of the animal, I guess. Just come in and be aggressive. You can't play hard unless you have the right mindset and that was a focus for me in this game."
Bachynski's aggressiveness had an effect on his team as four other Sun Devils scored in double figures and the team played at a much faster pace than in year's past. Carson was a catalyst for the attacking offense in his debut as the Sun Devils turned a once close contest into a route, taking a 49-31 lead into the half behind a 20-2 run and never looked back.
Despite coming in with fan lofty expectations, Carson played terrifically scoring 15 points on 5-11 shooting while also dishing out five assists and snaring two rebounds in the win. His dribble penetration and playmaking abilities set up his teammates throughout the night, but probably none more than Bachynski, who was quick to praise his point guard afterwards.
"I love playing with Jahii," said Bachynski. "He's a great point guard. He's not only quick and can take you off the dribble but he sees the court better than anyone I know. I love having a true point guard. Last year we struggled a little but Chris Colvin stepped up from the two to be a point guard and that was tough for him, that transition. But he did a great job last year. He played some point today and did a fantastic job but it's nice to have a player who has played point guard his whole career, who sees the court so well.
"He knows what he can do and I think he's hungry because he had to sit out last year. That's tough for any player, especially when, I mean, he didn't choose that, it was put upon him. He just came hungry. He's been hungry every practice and tonight he ate."
"I think I played pretty well," said Carson of his performance. "I tried to push the tempo up a little bit. We're still working on pushing the tempo so I didn't want to go too fast at times. I tried to get my teammates involved early so the defense couldn’t help on anybody and I tried to attack the basket when I could."
After the lengthy time off for one of the nation's top recruits coming out of high school two years ago, Carson admitted to feeling emotional as he prepared for his first college basketball game in front of the home crowd.
"I was just overwhelmed the whole day," he expressed. "I was excited, getting text messages from family members and seeing how excited they were. And seeing my teammates and how excited they were for me as well. I was just overwhelmed."
Helping Carson in the backcourt was fellow newcomer Evan Gordon, who transferred from Liberty and also made his Sun Devil debut on Saturday. The 6-1 guard chipped in 14 points and eight rebounds in the win, adding to the suddenly improved Sun Devil depth at guard.
"He definitely takes a lot of pressure off me," commented Carson on Gordon. "Guys can't pressure the basketball and can’t trap me as much because he’s a ball handler as well. He also hits open jump shots and is able to get me open shots. He just makes my game a little bit easier."
Aiding the Sun Devil scoring surge were Jon Gilling and Chris Colvin, who each contributed 11 points and senior leader Carrick Felix who despite having an off night shooting, still had 7 points to go along with his 11 rebounds.
The new look Sun Devils showed looked every bit as the team they've been described as being throughout the offseason, trying to play at a faster tempo, pushing the ball up the floor after makes and misses. While the results varied at times on Saturday - the team shot only 43% while turning the ball over 16 times, it's apparent the effort the was there. While the team is still trying to gel, Carson feels confident that the team is only going to improve as it pushes through its non-conference schedule.
"I think that when people say we play a slow tempo guys tend to try to prove them differently or wrong and go a little too fast. I think at times, myself and everyone else were maybe a bit too fast. I think if we have a fast pace but slow patience, we'll be fine. I think, overall, we played a good game. We came out here and went for the jugular and I think once we get our pace and our transition defense up, I think we'll be an outstanding team."
Another positive sign for Sun Devil fans was the commitment to play more man to man defense against the Bears. The Sun Devils, with an obvious height advantage over its opponent on Saturday, stayed in a man to man defense for the majority of the game, helping in its effort to crash the boards defensively and to get into its offensive more quickly, something Bachynski admits to favoring.
"I'll play whatever Coach wants me to play but I've played man most of my career so I'm more comfortable in man," he said. It keeps me closer to the hoop so I can get those block shots. I think that's a big reason why I was able to get those because I don't have to close out to the corner as much. But, I mean, I love playing man but if Coach wants us to switch back to zone, he's the coach."
The Sun Devils will now look forward to having the next week as their next game isn't until November 18th at home against Florida A&M. With a win under their belt and a new style of play on both ends of the court, Bachynski and his teammates have a new mentality for the season ahead, one most fans in Tempe can share.
"We take everything personally; the rankings, what people are saying about us, we take it all personally," he admitted. "If you don't take it personally, you shouldn't be out on the court. This year we're hungry. We have a need to win. I think we have parts that we were missing. I think we have a really great team and we have really great team chemistry. I think you can see that in the way we play; we're connected and we love playing with each other. It's fun."