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ASU Basketball: Sun Devils pick up big win against Harvard, 56-46

Arizona State turns in one of its best defensive performances of the year to top Harvard.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With seven days left until their Pac-12 opener in Tucson against a top 10 Arizona team, the Sun Devils were looking for a positive performance to give them some momentum on Sunday afternoon in Tempe. They got it from an unlikely source; their defense.

Arizona State came into the game ranked 120th in the nation in points allowed per game. Today the maroon and gold only allowed 46 points from the Crimson, including just 18 in the second half.

Both teams started the game by attacking each other inside the paint, with Harvard having the most success. The Crimson scored the game's first five points, but the Sun Devils responded with a 14-4 run to take a five point lead.

For the final ten minutes of the opening half, both teams went back and forth. The backcourt duo of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, one of the best Arizona State will face all season, combined for 23 of their team's 28 first half points. It was a Chambers three (assisted by Saunders) that pulled the visitors within 32-28 with less than a minute remaining, and the score stayed that way when an Eric Jacobsen tip-in at the buzzer was waved off.

Making their best second half adjustments of the season, the Sun Devils locked down Chambers and Saunders out of the locker room and forced Harvard to find production elsewhere. Sophomore sharpshooter Corbin Miller came off the bench and kept his team in the game with a couple of three pointers (including one four-point play), but he would eventually go cold.

The second half was all about extinguishing the mini-runs that the Crimson would try to put together. A Gerry Blakes triple with 14 minutes left gave Arizona State some breathing room after its lead had been cut to one, and four more consecutive points from Blakes put his team up eight with less than nine minutes remaining. The defense really started to ramp up then, as Sendek through out numerous different looks to break up any rhythm Harvard had offensively. The Crimson would only score five points in the final 8:30.

The Crimson did have some chances to get back in it late, but bad mistakes hurt them. A charging call on Kenyatta Smith gave the Sun Devils the ball back up nine with with four minutes left, and three missed free throws in less than a minute negated an opportunity to make it a two possession game. Down 10 with 20 seconds left, they called off the dogs following yet another blown layup. The final was 56-46, improving ASU's record to 8-5 on the season. Harvard fell to 7-3.

Blakes and Shaquille McKissic led Arizona State with 13 points each, while Saunders topped all scorers with 15. Noticeably absent for the home team was a lack of bench scoring. The Sun Devils only got three points from their reserves, and usual three-point specialist Jonathan Gilling only saw five minutes of action.

Next up is the start of a three game road trip for ASU, the first of which will be played against Arizona on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. MT. It will be televised by Fox Sports 1.