Every time it looks like an opponent has figured him out, Jahii Carson invents a new way to score. The freshman point guard tallied just four points on 2-8 shooting in the first half, but he totaled 21 second half points en route to a 63-59 victory for the Sun Devils.
Washington State came into Thursday night's matchup against Arizona State with a record of just 11-9, but they gave the 17-4 Sun Devils all they could handle in a conference battle that came down to the wire.
After practice on Tuesday, Coach Herb Sendek noted that each and every Pac-12 opponent posed a distinct challenge for his basketball team, and the Cougars were no exception.
Point guard Mike Ladd led a Washington State attack that made seven of 14 three-point attempts in the first half which helped the Cougars race out to a 13-4 lead. Coach Ken Bone saw great production out of his starters from the get-go, and hot shooting boosted the Cougars to a 28-26 halftime advantage.
Bone's defensive gameplan forced the Sun Devil offense to beat the Cougars from the perimeter, and Carson and company took awhile to heat up.
The Sun Devils missed their first eight three-point attempts before Chris Colvin came off the bench to light a spark in his teammates. After Colvin's triple with 8:37 remaining in the half, Arizona State finished the half five for its last eight from beyond the arc.
Guard Evan Gordon paced the maroon and gold with 11 points in the first half, but the star power was certainly lacking at the break.
Carson was routinely denied on fast breaks and basic drives by a converging Washington State defense in the first half and the point guard was forced to share the ball on set plays. Captain Carrick Felix was virtually nonexistent in the first half as he failed to score a single point and managed just one rebound.
When Arizona State took the court after the intermission, the Sun Devils' dynamic duo decided that they had seen enough. Carson and Felix combined to score the first nine points out of the break and dropped 32 of the Devils' 37 second half points.
With 6:51 remaining and Arizona State clutching to a two-point lead, the rest of the Sun Devil team simply deferred to the two playmakers. After opening the half on a mission, Carson and Felix willed their way to victory by scoring the final 15 Sun Devil points.
Though Carson and Felix took care of business on the offensive end, the Sun Devil defense played a large part in the victory as well.
After scoring 34 points against the maroon and gold last season, 6-foot-10 forward Brock Motum struggled mightily in his matchup with forward Jonathan Gilling. Though undersized, the sophomore wing held Motum to just 11 points on 3-13 from the field.
Carson weaved, bobbed, and forged his way into the paint throughout the second half and posted his tenth 20-point game of the season. As for Felix, the electrifying wingman came out of nowhere to record a double-double in the second half alone.
The Cougars held the Sun Devils down for as long as they could, but there's no denying the determination of this Arizona State squad. As difficult as it was for the Sun Devils to squeak out a victory in Pullman, the greatest test of the weekend will come on Saturday when they head to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies.
If Carson and Felix put together 40 minutes of quality basketball, the Huskies will have a hard time coming up with any answers for stopping the Sun Devils.