November 14, 2006

Sun Devils drop opener to Lumberjacks

Jerren Shipp and Christian Polk etched their names permanently into the school record books with the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring performances all-time by freshman in a debut, with 23 points and 22 points respectively, but it wasn't enough to propel Arizona State past Northern Arizona, as the Sun Devils lost 75-71.

The loss was ASU's first in a home opener in 17 seasons, and it was coach Herb Sendek's first ever season-opening loss in 13 seasons as a head coach.

"Our guys wanted to do well so badly," Sendek said following the game. "If I could only try to quantify for you how much they wanted to win and do well tonight you would be amazed. They've worked so hard every day. They have great attitudes. Tonight, not only for themselves, but for the Sun Devil nation they wanted to come out and get this win in the worst way. But obviously Northern Arizona played an outstanding game. We give them a lot of credit."

The Lumberjacks have four starters and nine scholarship players returning from a squad that went 21-11 last season. All five NAU starters scored in double figures Monday, led by senior guard Tyrone Bazy, who had 21 points, and sixth-year senior Stephen Sir, a player who finished among the national leaders in 3-point field goal percentage last season.

Arizona State led game 14-5 through seven minutes, but the Lumberjacks went on a quick 9-0 run to tie the game.

In the final six minutes of the first half, NAU outscored ASU 13-8, leading to a 39-33 advantage at intermission.

The Sun Devils made just 2-of-13 3-point attempts in the first half, and 15-of-34 field goal attempts in all, as they failed to capitalize on a number of second chance opportunities and an 18-13 rebounding advantage.

Sir made three clutch shots from beyond the arc in the second half, including one that appeared to put ASU on the brink of defeat in the final minute before Shipp responded with a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left to make it a 69-66 game, but it was as close as the home team would get.

NAU proceeded to keep ASU out of range by knocking down six straight foul shots, four of which were converted by Bazy.

"For us, I thought really the key was our defense," Sendek said. "Our defense was much too porous for us to have a better chance to win the game. We've got to do a better job on that end of the floor.

"Offensively, although I love the 3-point shot and it's blasphemy for me to say this, we were too quick on too many possessions just to settle for a quick or challenged three (point attempt), and if you combine those possession with the 18 turnovers we had, it just was a disproportionate number of non-productive offensive possessions. But we'll get right to the film, it will be a great learning session tomorrow for our men and we'll obviously have a quick turnaround for Wednesday night."

An unusually large announced crowd of 10,267 came out to support a Sun Devil doubleheader, with the women's team playing earlier in the evening. Many of the fans from that game remained, while the student section packed its confines in the lower bowl of the arena and proved boisterous throughout the evening.

"I thought the crowd tonight was really a good first step for our basketball program," Sendek said. "I was particularly grateful for the way the students stood throughout the entire game and all wore gold. I thought it was really the beginning of what could be a great atmosphere in Wells Fargo."

Shipp's performance in particular was an impressive one for the Sun Devils. He converted on 8-of-11 field goal attempts in the game and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc, tied for the team lead with seven rebounds, and played tenacious defense for much of the game.

Polk, meanwhile, shot the ball very well to open the game, but struggled later, finishing 10-of-26 overall and 2-of-11 from 3-point range.

"I guess the good news and the bad news is our freshmen led the way," Sendek said. "Jerren and Christian both had coming out games as freshmen. We hope to have more balance in the future I assure you, but those guys both did a nice job for us. They've really been kind of doing what you saw tonight all fall in practices. That's why neither one of those guys comes off the floor very much for us."

Sophomore forward Jeff Pendergraph, who started alongside classmate Sylvester Seay, had a modest performance of six points, four rebounds, and three assists, with five turnovers. He was in foul trouble a bit and also was the focal point of the NAU defense.

"They were double teaming [Pendergraph] every time he got the ball, so when a defense does that he might not get as many shots, but we stand to have the opportunity for him to get others good shots," Sendek said. "Because that's the definition of a really good player.

"So Northern Arizona decided to trap the post tonight some, he didn't get as many shots, but it could have led to some opportunities for some of his teammates. We've just got to do a little better job of making sure we're low and wide in the post and we can negotiate that a little better than we did tonight."

Better defensive consistency, improved shot selection and more balanced scoring -- just three of the many things the Sun Devils will attempt to improve upon Wednesday, and in the weeks and months to come.

"We're going to get it done," Sendek said. "We're going to do it the right way. It's not going to happen overnight, I don't think anybody thought it was going to. Experiences like this will only serve to strengthen our resolve and increase our determination, I assure you."

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