Sun Devils Hold Off Morehead State

By Brian Gomez, thesundevils.com

Regardless of the task at hand, the first step is often the hardest.

That statement held true Friday for the ASU men's basketball team, whichescaped with a 59-56 season-opening victory over Morehead State before acrowd of 6,154 at Wells Fargo Arena. The Sun Devils, who were again withoutsenior shooting guard Curtis Millage, won on a night when they clearlyweren't their sharpest.

'It was a win, but it was kind of ugly,' said ASU senior forward TommySmith, who scored nine second-half points to give his team enough of acushion to avert an upset bid.

With the good came the bad in ASU's final tune-up before the MauiInvitational. Smith was strong after the break, but still proved prone togetting in foul trouble, as he was whistled for his fifth with 1:01 remaining.

Senior forward Donnell Knight, who marked his third career double-doublewith a team-high 15 points and 12 rebounds, helped the Sun Devils (1-0) buildan 11-point halftime lead.

Morehead had a chance to tie the game after an ASU turnover in the final seconds.

ASU led by three points, but had already exhausted all its timeouts withfive seconds left when Knight attempted to make an in-bounds pass from thebaseline. Knight couldn't find anyone open, so he hurled the ball into thebackcourt.

With no gold shirts there to receive the pass, the ball rolled out ofbounds, giving the Eagles (0-1) more than enough time to draw even. Luckilyfor the Sun Devils, Morehead State senior guard Chez Marks' desperationthree-pointer was off the mark.

'All things considered and with the things that have gone on over thelast 10 days or so, I thought we did a pretty good job of trying to refocus,'said head coach Rob Evans, who improved to 4-1 all-time in season openers atASU. 'This is a pretty close-knit team. When they had a chance to fold, theyrallied together and got it done. We're just going to be a team that's goingto have to rake and scrape and try to get it done any way we can get it done.'

Evans needed everything he could get from Knight with Millage andfreshmen forwards Serge Angounou and Allen Morill confined to the bench.Angounou is out for the season after having surgery on his right knee, whileMillage and Morill are both sidelined with academic eligibility issues.

'I want to make an impact,' Knight said. 'I don't want to leave herewithout doing anything.'

Although Knight turned the ball over six times, his made sure hispresence was felt in a positive way by draining 7 of 11 shots from the field.His 15 points are the most he's scored since posting 17 against USC on Jan.20, 2001.

'Coach told me to play like a 'junk man,' so I took on that role, andthat's what I am to this team,' Knight said. 'I get my touches without themeven running the play for me.'

What may have gone unnoticed was the fact that Knight was given thetoughest defensive assignment. Morehead State swingman Ricky Minard stillmanaged to score 18 points, but shot a paltry 7-for-22 from the field and was4-for-11 from three-point range.

'Curtis and I could have taken our chances on Ricky and could have wornhim down a little bit more instead of me playing so many minutes and guardinghim the whole game,' Knight said. 'It would have made a big difference on thedefensive end.'

After playing man-to-man last week in a pair of exhibition games, the SunDevils flashed an array of zone defenses Friday to keep the Eagles offbalance. Morehead State shot 34.9 percent from the floor.

ASU freshman forward Ike Diogu was held to 10 points after scoring 55 intwo exhibitions. But Smith picked up the pace on the offense end, especiallyin the second half when he posted nine points over a five-minute stretch.

'You can't always rely on Ike,' Smith said. 'He's a freshman and this washis first real collegiate game. You can't expect 50 points from him everynight. You can't put that kind of pressure on him.'

Reach the reporter at brian.gomez@asu.edu.

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