Sun Devils Burn McNeese State

Dec. 22, 2003

By Brian Gomez,

The holidays have a tendency to bring out the best in people at the most opportune times.

Such was the case for Arizona State's men's basketball team, which used a blistering first half Monday to roll to an 81-61 win over McNeese State at Wells Fargo Arena in its last game before Christmas and its first since dropping a heartbreaker at Northwestern.

Sophomore forward Ike Diogu loomed large in the onslaught, scoring a career-high 38 points, including 23 in the first half when the Sun Devils built a 46-22 lead thanks to some hot shooting and aggressive defense.

'We've still got a lot of learning that we've got to do,' said ASU head coach Rob Evans, whose team forced 31 turnovers, tied for the third-most by an opponent in his 11-plus years of coaching. 'We'll still be improving when this season is over, but I like the makeup of this team, and I like the effort they give, and we're better than we were last week.'

The game got out of hand so early that Evans had the luxury of almost emptying his bench in the first half. Ten Sun Devils saw action before the break, and all 12 active players got in the game by the time the final horn sounded.

Unlike previous games, ASU (5-2) stayed consistent for almost 40 minutes, but not before Evans burned two timeouts in the opening five minutes of the second half in an attempt to squelch McNeese State's 10-6 run.

McNeese State (3-6) trimmed a 24-point halftime deficit to 16 points with 10:10 remaining, but ASU quickly pushed its lead back up on the strength of seven unanswered points. Diogu converted a three-point play, then junior point guard Jason Braxton made four straight free throws, and the rout was on again.

'We didn't play as good as we should have in the second half,' said Diogu, who was 12-for-15 from the field and 14-for-15 from the free-throw line. 'We've got a lot of young guys on our team, but I don't want to keep using that as an excuse. As we get more games, we'll be able to put teams away like this.'

Behind Diogu, the Sun Devils went ahead 15-2 less than five minutes into the game. Diogu scored eight points in the early burst, including two on an alley-oop from Braxton. Junior guard Steve Moore also drained a three-pointer, and freshman forward Wilfried Fameni accounted for four points, all of which came in the paint.

'We dug a deep hole in the first half, and that hole was too deep to come out of against a team like ASU,' McNeese State head coach Tic Price said. 'They put their foot on our neck, and just didn't let up.'

Diogu's 38 points, tied for the eighth-most in a single game in school history, eclipsed the 31 he totaled earlier this season in ASU's 77-68 triumph over UC Riverside. Diogu scored from inside and outside, although most of his points came in the post. It was the most points by a Sun Devil since Eddie House had 40 against UCLA on Feb. 17, 2000.

'I just tried to come out like I always come out, and I wanted to be aggressive,' Diogu said.

UP NEXT: After Christmas, the Sun Devils return to action next Monday in the ASU/ Hoops Classic. ASU plays San Diego at 5 p.m. following the 2:30 p.m. game between Winthrop and Western Michigan.

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TEMPE, Ariz. - Ike Diogu had 23 of his career-high 38 points in the first half, leading Arizona State to an 81-61 win over McNeese State on Monday night.

Diogu, a sophomore who has been in double figures each of his 39 college games, made 12 of 15 shots and 14 of 15 free throws to tie Fat Lever for eighth on Arizona State's single-game list.

It was the most points by a Sun Devil since Eddie House had 40 against UCLA on Feb. 17, 2000.

The preseason All-American also had eight rebounds for the Sun Devils (5-2).

Edward Garriett had 21 points in the Cowboys' fifth straight loss, and Eldridge Lewis contributed 10.

Lewis, scoreless at halftime, sank two 3-pointers early in the second half, and the Cowboys (3-6) got within 50-34 on Ryan Price's layup after a steal with 14:30 left.

But that only kept Diogu in the game longer. He fought through a triple team for a three-point play with 9:29 to go, opening a 59-40 lead. The free throw topped his previous high of 31 points set against UC Riverside on Nov. 29.

That started a 15-5 surge, and Arizona State took its biggest lead at 71-43 with 6:12 to go.

Diogu had 17 points midway through the first half, picking up seven on a 19-foot jumper, a three-point play and two free throws in a 1:36 span to send Arizona State to a 26-11 lead with 9:55 left.

The gap reached 37-14 when Jason Braxton dunked after a steal with 5:00 remaining, and 46-19 with 1:08 to go after two baskets by Diogu 17 seconds apart.

AP Sports Writer

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