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Harden helps Arizona State avoid early upset

Nov 19, 2008 - 7:34 AM SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- James Harden made sure Arizona State passed its first road test of the season.

Harden scored 18 points to lead 15th-ranked Arizona State to a 59-52 victory against San Diego State on Tuesday.

Expected to be one of the top players in the Pac-10, Harden made 7-of-11 shots and grabbed five rebounds as the Sun Devils managed to forge the win during their earliest road game in school history. It was just the fourth time in 26 years that Arizona State left home in November.

"This was anything but a fluid basketball game," Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek said. "Our team played ugly, but found a way to win. It was a real gut check. We have a lot of room for improvement; we have to get so much better."

Ty Abbott added 13 points and Rihards Kuksiks contributed 10 for the Sun Devils (2-0), who play three games at neutral sites, but do not visit another team's arena again until their conference opener on January 2 at Stanford.

Arizona State went 4-5 away from home last season, but managed to overcome several deficits to avoid an early season upset.

San Diego State, which had won 37 of its last 43 home games entering the contest, surged to a 15-2 lead over the first 7:14 of the opening half.

"They're very physical and athletic," said Sendek of the Aztecs. "We really were challenged to get the ball when the other team missed. They came out and hit us right between the eyes. I was hoping to get to 10 points by halftime."

Led by Harden's eight points, the Sun Devils battled back, going on a 15-5 run over the final 9:40 of the first half, cutting the deficit to one point entering the locker rooms.

The Aztecs put together another surge after emerging, going on a 10-5 run en route to a 34-28 lead with 11:57 left to play.

But, once again, Arizona State was too much for San Diego State, using a 16-10 run to tie the game with 6:08 left.

"We obviously can't have long extended periods where we don't score but basketball, no matter how you slice it, is a game of runs," Aztecs coach Steve Fisher said. "You have to maximize your runs by not making a turnover, by making layups, by making open shots and minimize theirs by not putting them to the free-throw line. Make them have to make contested shots."

The Sun Devils then hit three straight 3-pointers, two by Kuksiks, over a span of 1:38 to forge a 50-44 lead with 3:21 remaining.

"We definitely let it slip away," Aztecs forward Kyle Spain said. "I think we led the game until the five-minute mark. After they hit those two threes to go up by (six), we just lost momentum."

Spain paced San Diego State (1-1) with 17 points while Billy White added 12 in the loss.

"We did everything we were supposed to do, it was just those last five minutes," White said. "We just have to learn from it and next time we'll know exactly what we need to do to get the win."