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November 19, 2011It wasn't a win, but there were clear signs of progress; of hope.
That's the message coach Herb Sendek and some of his players clung to following Arizona State's 76-71 loss to New Mexico Friday in front of 5,046 at Wells Fargo Arena, which saw junior Trent Lockett miss a 3-pointer that would have tied the game with 16 seconds remaining.
It's difficult to say how much of that was true belief and how much was an attempt to convince themselves they're on the right track.
What's indisputable though is the Sun Devils have lost two of their first three games in a season since 1996-97, Sendek's first in Tempe, when they finished 8-22 overall. New Mexico, meanwhile, improved to 2-1.
Losing multiple non-conference games at home in the span of a week can be emotionally taxing, especially when the visiting team's fans chant "in your house" in the game's waning moments as was the case Friday.
"It's definitely a different feeling (than Tuesday's loss to Pepperdine)," sophomore Carrick Felix, who had a game-high 20 points, said. "I feel like we played together very well this game. I feel like we all came together really good.
"It's just a lot of little mistakes that we've got to make up for in practice and practice and continue to get better. We're going to have adversity, we're going to have ups and downs and this is the time where we build and come together even more."
The Sun Devils hung tight with the Lobos, pre-season favorites to win the Mountain West Conference, all night before an 6-0 run gave the visitors their biggest lead of the game, 71-63 with 3:30 left.
Aided by three consecutive layups and two defensive stops, ASU cut its deficit to two points with 55 seconds remaining before Kendall Williams made 1 of 2 at the foul line and Lockett missed his corner 3-pointer that would have tied the game for the 15th time.
"We had a good look, it didn't go down," Sendek said. "I don't think we could hope for a better opportunity."
Williams didn't start after not making a field goal in the team's loss to New Mexico State Wednesday, but turned in a much better performance two days later with 16 points, seven rebounds and seven assists off the bench.
ASU's last lead of the game at the 8:26 mark of the second half, when sophomore Chanse Creekmur hit a 3-pointer. A key turning point came four minutes later when the Lobos saved a ball on the baseline and it bounced through the heart of the ASU defense twice untouched before they picked it up near the top of the key and swung it to Tony Snell for a corner 3-pointer that gave them a 68-63 lead.
For the third consecutive game, Sendek lamented his team's inability to protect the basketball on offense. ASU had 19 turnovers - including six by junior point guard Chris Colvin and four each by junior Trent Lockett and sophomore Keala King -- and just 10 assists.
"Our turnovers continue to be almost insurmountable," Sendek said. "The quantity and the timing of them make it very difficult on our basketball team. It leaves us little room for error against a good team like New Mexico."
King's contribution to the team's turnover woes was the downside to an otherwise impressive night, which including 13 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 36 minutes.
But King left the bowels of the arena with a scowl on his face, clearly unhappy with the loss. His teammates, of course were as well, but willing to acknowledge this was a much better showing than their loss three days earlier.
"We came really close this game and came together really well as you guys could see and we're just going to build off that," Felix said.