Sun Devils Take Hoops Classic With Win Over Cornhuskers

By Brian Gomez, TheSunDevils.com

When playing on back-to-back nights for the first time in more than amonth, things again weren't easy for the Arizona State men's basketball team,but the result was still the same.

The last time the Sun Devils had to take the floor for two games in asmany days, they fought their way to an 83-79 overtime victory against Utah inthe Maui Invitational. Although Saturday night's game was not nearly asclose, an equivalent amount of effort was needed.

Freshman forward Ike Diogu and senior forward Tommy Smith combined for 37points to help lift ASU to a 75-63 win over Nebraska in the championship gameof the 36th annual azcentral.com Hoops Classic before a crowd of 6,936 atWells Fargo Arena.

'This is the best group of guys I've had together, and we're stillgathering them,' said Sun Devil head coach Rob Evans. 'We're pretty proud ofwhere we are right now because of the schedule that we have played. We're notsatisfied because we have a lot of work left to do.'

Nearly everything was clicking for ASU, which matched patience on offensewith aggressiveness on the defensive end. The Sun Devils (8-3) held theCornhuskers (5-5) to 45.3 percent shooting from the field and committed onlyseven turnovers, the third-fewest in Evans' 298-game coachingcareer. ASU also shot a season-high 88.9 percent (16-for-18) from thefree-throw line.

'They really kept us off balance,' Nebraska head coach Barry Colliersaid. 'They bothered us with their pressure. They controlled the inside onboth ends of the floor in the first half.'

Diogu, who scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting from thefield to take home tournament Most Valuable Player honors, set the toneearly. He tossed in his team's first six points and converted a three-pointplay after taking an entry pass from senior guard Kyle Dodd to propel the SunDevils to a 32-16 lead with 6:08 left before the break.

Dodd and junior swingman Jamal Hill each knocked down a pair of jumpersduring ASU's 22-4 run over an eight-minute stretch midway through the firsthalf. Sun Devil senior forward Shawn Redhage knocked down a three-pointer andSmith made a pair of free throws to cap the scoring spree.

Smith picked up right where he left off after intermission. He tossed ina pair of easy baskets after marking steals on Nebraska's first two trips upcourt.

'I'm not in foul trouble, so now I can just go out and play and not worryabout staying on the floor,' said Smith, whose 16-point effort earned him aspot on the all-tournament team.

Despite trailing by 22 points with 13:32 remaining, the Cornhuskersrefused to lie down. They twice cut the deficit to nine points, but ASUresponded both times.

Diogu was the first to answer the bell with his third three-point play atthe 8:28 mark of the second half. Sun Devil senior shooting guard CurtisMillage, who was 3-for-13 from the field and 0-for-6 from beyond the arc,then did the same to put the game out of reach.

'Basketball is a game of runs,' Diogu said. 'We made a run, so we kind ofthought they were going to make a run. Coaches told us to just calm down, bepatient and keep doing what got us the lead.'

GAME NOTES: The Sun Devils, who have won 11 of the past 14 azcentral.comHoops Classic's, improved to 60-12 all-time in the event ... ASU is 3-1all-time against Nebraska ... The Sun Devils were 3-for-16 from three-pointrange and the Cornhuskers were 3-for-17 ... In the past two seasons, ASU is21-3 (.875) when leading at the half ... Diogu has made 94.7 percent (36-of-38)of his attempts from the free-throw line in the last five games ... Smith isaveraging six assists in the last three games.

BUCKNELL UPSETS UC SANTA BARBARA: Bucknell shot just 41.5 percent fromthe field, but got double-figure efforts from three players in a 67-60victory over UC Santa Barbara to capture third-place honors in theazcentral.com Hoops Classic. Freshman guard Kevin Bettencourt marked ateam-high 19 points, while junior guard Chris Rodgers added 18 and seniorforward Boakai Lalugba scored 10.

UP NEXT: The Sun Devils will begin Pac-10 play next week at the Oregonschools. ASU is scheduled to face Oregon State at 7:30 p.m. PT Thursday beforetraveling to No. 11 Oregon at 6 p.m. PT Saturday.

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

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