TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona State hasn’t begun Pac-12 play yet and the Sun Devils already have more victories than they did all of last season.
The big reason, obviously, is the presence of Jahii Carson.
The freshman playmaker had 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to lead Arizona State past Coppin State 68-52 Saturday in the Devils’ final tuneup before starting Pac-12 play.
Jonathan Gilling added 14 points on 4 of 9 shooting from 3-point range. Carrick Felix and Evan Gordon scored 11 apiece for Arizona State (11-2), which opens Pac-12 play Wednesday night at home against Utah.
“I think we have good chemistry so far,” Carson said. “A lot of people doubted our chemistry, just doubted us in general. We had a little chip (on our shoulder) and we showed that we can play with guys in the country.”
Coach Herb Sendek said he’s found Carson highly coachable, both last season when he was able to practice but ineligible to play in games, and this season, when he was the leader on the court from the get-go.
“He’s a willing listener and learner,” Sendek said. “We spend time together, talking one on one, watching tape, and he has been extremely receptive to coaching and teaching. He wants to learn. He wants to get better, and then he really makes an effort to take what we’re talking about and apply it into games. So I really enjoy working with him from that standpoint. As a teacher and coach, that’s all you can ask for.”
Carson said he has a triple double in his sights, not for personal reasons but for what it can do for the team.
“Definitely, definitely,” he said, “to try to get my teammates as open as possible and get them open shots and definitely get rebounds and take some of the pressure off the bigs.”
Troy Franklin, Michael Murray and Patrick Cole scored 13 apiece for Coppin State (3-11). Franklin made 4 of 5 3s, Cole 3 of 4.
The Sun Devils got off to a slow start and trailed 21-17 after Cole’s 17-footer capped an 8-0 Coppin State spurt with 6:35 left in the first half.
But Gordon and Chris Colvin sank 3s to ignite a 17-2 run that put Arizona State in control for good 34-21 with a minute and a half left in the half. Sterling Smith’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 34-26, but Rusian Pateev made 1 of 2 free throws, then Carson sank a 16-footer at the buzzer to put the Sun Devils up 37-26 at the break.
Arizona State outscored the Eagles 16-6 to start the second half. Gilling, who made six 3s in the Sun Devils’ 77-52 win at Texas Tech a week earlier, sank a 3-pointer, then Jordan Bachynski scored inside to put Arizona State up 53-32 with 11:22 to play.
The lead reached 63-39 when Gilling found Felix on a dunk with 4:41 to play.
Coppin State, coming off an 80-50 loss at Iowa a week ago, had played a tough nonconference schedule that included an 87-51 loss at Indiana. The Eagles play at Akron on Wednesday night.
Arizona State played 10 of its 13 nonconference games at home, with two on a neutral court and the Texas Tech contest the only true road game. The Devils are 9-1 at home.
“I think that’s one thing we can kind of feel good about is throughout the nonconference schedule we really did a good job of focusing on the game at hand,” Sendek said. “Sometimes no matter how much you talk about it, as much as you emphasize it, as much as it should be the case, sometimes that doesn’t happen.”
Arizona State opens Pac-10 play at home for the first time in five years.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)