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Hot-handed Gators scorch ASU

 by Alex Espinoza
 published on Wednesday, March 26, 2008

<b>FRANTIC:</b> Sophomore guard Derek Glasser looks for an open teammate during the Sun Devils’ game against the Florida on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena./issues/news/704351
Lindy Mapes / THE STATE PRESS
FRANTIC: Sophomore guard Derek Glasser looks for an open teammate during the Sun Devils’ game against the Florida on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena.
 

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Silence.

Sometimes it's the only way to express how one feels.

On Tuesday evening, it filled the locker room of the ASU men's basketball team after the Sun Devils suffered a season-ending 70-57 loss to Florida in the quarterfinals of the National Invitational Tournament.

"There was nothing to be said," junior forward Jeff Pendergraph shared following the game. "We all felt each other's pain. We're not going to talk about it. We already know how each other are feeling. We're real close. We're like brothers."

The silence was a stark contrast to the atmosphere inside Wells Fargo Arena during the contest that featured ASU's most raucous crowd for a non-UA game all season.

"As selfishly as we may want to win for the players and the coaches, I wanted to win even more tonight for our fans," ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "They were just incredible."

Despite exiting the NIT earlier than planned, the Sun Devils should have no reason to hang their heads.

The season began with a throng of new faces, uncertainty and a predicted ninth-place finish in the Pac-10. It ended with 21 wins, a postseason tournament run and a team poised to do major damage come next season.

"We accomplished a lot," Pendergraph said. "We did a lot of things people didn't expect us to do, and it's just going to carry over into the summer and into next season."

The game started on a sour note with some all-too-familiar ASU miscues.

Pendergraph played himself out of the game in the early going, picking up two fouls in the first 3:15 of the game, while the Sun Devils gave up one of their patented runs.

Florida sophomore center Marreese Speights converted a 3-point play after Pendergraph's second foul to jumpstart a 12-0 run that put Florida up 17-3.

The Sun Devils looked bothered by Florida's full-court press and zone defense in the game's initial minutes, but looked to figure it out as the first half went on.

ASU responded with an 11-4 run of its own to get the crowd back in it and cut the deficit to 23-14 with eight minutes remaining in the half. The Sun Devils kept the pressure on in the ensuing minutes and used back-to-back 3-point-plays by freshman guard James Harden to cut the lead to six. Florida went into the locker room with a 35-29 lead.

The Sun Devil faithful came out in full force for half No. 2.

Sophomore guard Derek Glasser hit a critical 3-pointer to send the crowd into a frenzy and bring the score to 43-42 four and half minutes in. The 12,306 fans in attendance hit fever pitch two minutes later when sophomore guard Jerren Shipp nailed a 3-pointer to give the Sun Devils their first lead of the game at 47-45.

Florida freshman guard Nick Calathes answered back with a shot-clock beating three of his own the next time down the court, but another trifecta by freshman guard Jamelle McMillan gave ASU the lead back at 50-48.

But things went south soon after that.

Harden picked up two fouls in a matter of 14 seconds, getting his fourth with 9:04 remaining.

ASU wasn't the same offensive team from that point on.

"I thought that was a really, really big play in the game," Sendek said of Harden's third foul — a controversial charging call that left the crowd in a tizzy. "Every game there seems to be a turning point. Sometimes there are a couple of pivots that send the game in a certain direction, and I thought that was really big."

Glasser knocked down a 3-pointer with 6:45 left to bring ASU within 56-53, but the Sun Devils wouldn't convert a field goal the rest of the way, as Florida ended on a 14-3 run.

Freshman forward Chandler Parsons gave the Gators a huge boost off the bench, contributing 15 points and hitting big shot after big shot.

His 3-pointer with 2:37 remaining gave Florida a 66-55 lead and effectively ended ASU's Madison Square Garden aspirations.

He was one of five Gators to notch double-digit points on the evening.

"They had tremendous balance," Sendek said. "I was just really impressed with the way they played."

Junior guard Walter Hodge led Florida with an 18-point effort that included four 3-pointers to go along with his seven assists. Calathes finished with 11 points, six rebounds and nine assists.

Harden scored a team-high 18 points for ASU and was the only player to break the double-digit plateau besides Pendergraph, who added 14.

The Sun Devils were out rebounded by a 29-18 margin and allowed Florida to shoot 60.5 percent from the field for the game. ASU made just 1-of-8 3-pointers in the first half and shot 39.1 percent from the field in the second period.

"Florida did a masterful job of changing defenses and keeping us off balance," Sendek said. "I don't think we ever really achieved an offensive rhythm tonight."

Just minutes after chapter two of the Sendek era closed, it was evident his players were already looking forward to chapter three.

The Sun Devils are likely to lose just one player — senior guard Antwi Atuahene — during the offseason, barring an NBA departure by Pendergraph.

Pendergraph seemed somewhat undecided on his basketball future but has made it known that he will at least tryout for NBA teams to weigh his stock at the next level.

"I don't think it'll hurt to get to some of the draft camps," he said. "To get some experience playing against these guys that are about to go and test my self against all that. If it works out, it works out. If not, I have no problem coming back."

Harden jumped in at the end of Pendergraph's statement, however, adding, "In other words, he'll be back."

Harden left no such doubt in the minds of Sun Devil fans, saying, "As long as I'm living, I'm here [at ASU]."

And as long as he's alive, so are ASU's NCAA Tournament chances in 2009.

It will be interesting to see how the Pendergraph situation unfolds as the NBA Draft nears, but one thing is for certain: the Sun Devils and their fans will be making plenty of noise again next season.

Reach the reporter at: alex.espinoza@asu.edu.



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