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Harden powers Arizona State to care-free victory

Nov 15, 2008 - 8:13 AM TEMPE, Arizona (Ticker) -- James Harden and Arizona State are picking up right where they left off.

Harden scored 24 points to lead 15th-ranked Arizona State to an easy 80-64 victory over Mississippi Valley State on Friday.

The super sophomore made 6-of-11 shots from the floor while dishing out a career-high 10 assists. He scored 16 points in the first half and made 12-of-16 free throws.

"I guess that's how I always am. I'm a playmaker, I like to give my teammates shots," Harden said. "I try to create for them as much as possible. I think I did an OK job of that tonight."

The first McDonald's All-American to sign with the Sun Devils straight out of high school since 1984, Harden is the leading returning scorer in the Pac-10 and should be one of the top players in the country. He averaged 17.8 points and 5.3 rebounds as a freshman and is the cornerstone of a team that returns all five starters from last season.

"I'm starting to pick up my leadership, we're coming together as a team more and more," Harden said. "As I pick up my communication, we become a better team. My energy level has to increase, just the whole game has to step up."

Ty Abbott had 18 points and eight rebounds while Rihards Kuksiks added 12 for the Sun Devils (1-0), who had no trouble earning the win in the season opener for both teams.

"Overall, I think it was all right," said Abbott of the opener. "There is obviously a lot of work to do. Got some things to work out in the offense, and (we have to) rebound better. We came out the first game and got the wrinkles out."

ASU scored the first six points of the contest and never looked back, putting together a strong defensive effort. The Sun Devils, who allowed 70 points just eight times in 34 contests last season, limited Mississippi Valley State to 42 percent (23-of-55) shooting from the floor.

But, coach Herb Sendek still thinks his team needs to improve.

"We have a lot of work to do. We will continue to roll up our sleeves and try to get better," he said. "There is no such thing as a comfortable lead. ... We want to play the same way, with focus, intensity, with attention to detail and sharpness regardless of what the score is. We most certainly are in no condition to ever have the luxury of being comfortable."

Arizona State shot a blistering 58 percent (26-of-45) from the field. Jeff Pendergraph, who has averaged in double figures each of his first three seasons with the Sun Devils and is the lone senior on the team, made all four shots he attempted, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds.

Shannon Behling scored 18 points to lead four players in double figures for Mississippi Valley State.

Michael Clark had 16 points, Dwayne Harmason contributed 13 while Eric Petty scored 11 and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Delta Devils, who captured the Southwestern Athletic Conference title last year before falling to UCLA, 70-29, in the opening round of the West Regional.

    --- --- -----
    MISS VALLEY ST 23 41 64
    ARIZONA ST (15) 39 41 80 FINAL

    Nov 15 12:21 AM


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    Mississippi Valley State 0, Arizona State(15) 6  1st - 16:33Nov 14 10:53 PM