If the Sun Devils were at all disappointed about being left out of the NCAA Tournament, they certainly didn't show it. Instead, they looked like a team with something to prove, jumping ahead of Detroit early and burying the Titans with a suffocating team defense and a quick-striking offensive attack.
Arizona State used a 24-4 run in the game's opening minutes to turn what many expected to be a close contest between the two teams into a laugher by halftime. Carson led the way, following up a strong performance in the Pac-12 Tournament last week in Las Vegas with 22 points, a career-high 10 rebounds, while also dishing out seven assists in the win.
"It helps me a lot when (my teammates) are hitting shots and they're driving," said Carson afterwards. "Defenses can't collapse on me and it's easier for me to get to the basket and score and it just makes us that much harder to guard when everybody is hitting shoots and everybody is flowing together."
It marked the 17th time this season that Carson eclipsed the 20 point mark in a game, breaking the school's record for most 20 point games in a season by a freshman, previously held by James Harden.
"Well, dang," he remarked. "I don't try to go out there and get points, I just try to go out there and attack the basket. It's tough for some teams to guard a guy who's so small and can create around the basket as well as I do. It's been great for me this season, just to be able to go out there and score the basketball and help my teammates and my team get the win."
Detroit entered the game eighth in the nation in scoring, averaging 78.1 points per game but struggled to find their rhythm against the aggressive Sun Devils. The Titans missed their first 10 shot attempts from the field, with their first made basket not coming until the 10:14 mark in the first half. By that point, Arizona State had built an insurmountable lead and the route was on.
"I just think we were physical," said Carson. "I don't think they're used to the physicality of the Pac-12 and we brought that a little bit to them. The league that they play in is more just ball screens and guard play, but we forced it inside and just tried to punish them. We just tried to show them how we get down in the Pac."
The Sun Devils limited Detroit to just 22% shooting from the field in the first, 34% overall for the game, as the Titans were only able to connect on 2 of their 20 three point attempts.
"I just thought our guys were dialed and it started without their eagerness to play," said ASU Head Coach Herb Sendek. "And also, we spent the last couple of days telling them what kind of talent Detroit has. I just thought our guys prepared ell, played well, notwithstanding the fouling and the turnovers."
"At the half, to hold a team that was eight in the nation in scoring to 22% was a real feather in our cap."
What was billed as a match-up between two scoring point guards in Carson and Detroit's Ray McCallum became a one man show. McCallum entered the night aerating 18.8 points per game, but struggled against guards Chris Colvin and Evan Gordon, finishing with 16 points on 4-13 shooting, with just two rebounds and two assists.
"He's good," said Carson. "He tries to get to the basket but we've got guys who played against just as tough of guards in our conference, night in and night out. We were used to it. Our guys are strong guards; Colvin and Evan. They're strong guys and are used to the point guard play."
Sun Devil senior Carrick Felix helped start the first half scoring frenzy, pouring in 15 of his 21 points in the opening frame. Despite being slowed by foul trouble in the second half, the talented wing man still chipped in seven rebounds and a couple crowd pleasing slam dunks, bringing the crowd of 3,519 to their feet on more than one occasion.
"It's something that we definitely wanted to do this game being that it was the tournament opener for us," he said. "We just wanted to come out with a lot of energy. A lot of guys were excited to play. We had a good crowd out there and I just think that we brought it in the first half. We let down a little bit in the second half, but in the first half we were ready to go."
"I think playing fast goes with our personality," he added. "Jahii is the quickest point guard in the nation, and we have great, athletic wings. Even our bigs can run the floor and that's something that's a part of our game."
ASU overwhelmed the smaller Titan frontcourt early on, as center Jordan Bachynski imposed his will. The junior finished with 16 points and six rebounds, helping ASU to a 41-21 rebounding advantage for the game, with Carson of course leading the way with a team-high 10.
"He stole all my rebounds," lamented Felix. "I'd box out and go get one and Jahii would just run up under me and grab them."
"I'm trying to be nitty-gritty down there," said Carson jokingly. "Ten boards? That's pretty good for me. I'm happy with it."
On a night when the Sun Devils led by 19 at the half, had four players in double figures and were led in rebounding by the smallest player on the court, there were very few things to be upset with. But 24 turnovers and 22 team fouls kept the Titans in the game late, as they trimmed the ASU lead down to as few as nine in the second half before the Sun Devils pulled away again.
"I just think we were excited to be out there, in the postseason, and I just think when you get so excited you go too fast and we just happened to turn the ball over," said Carson who had six turnovers.
Conversely for the Sun Devils, the team knocked down 24 of its 28 free throw attempts to prevent Detroit from getting any closer in the game's closing minutes, highlighted by Bachynski who was a perfect 8-8 from the stripe.
"We started practicing them," joked Sendek. "We didn't think they were important enough to practice all year and now what we're going to do the next chance we have to practice is we're going to work on our free throw shooting defense because they were 26-27."
With the win, Arizona State advances to play Baylor on Friday in Waco, TX. The Bears defeated Long Beach State on Wednesday as well, 112-66, setting up what should be a high-scoring, fast-paced match-up with the Sun Devils.
"Baylor is definitely a good team," said Felix. "They're long, athletic and I went to school with the point guard, Pierre Jackson, so we definitely know a lot about Baylor. It's going to be a real physical game, very fast pace because they're a fast pace team and we've just got to make sure we go in there and rebound."
"Baylor is as talented as any team you're going to find, in this field and most any team in the country," added Sendek. "We know we've got a heck of a challenge on Friday night. This group will go down and give it their best shot."