Maybe something was in the air at Wells Fargo Arena Thursday afternoon in a holiday matinee between Arizona State and North Carolina A&T. Maybe the Sun Devils' minds were in the air. A number of players had flights to catch after the game and perhaps their thoughts were on going home for Christmas.
In the end, ASU prevailed 56-50, rallying from 12 points down in the second half to a virtual unknown in college basketball circles. It wasn't pretty, as both teams shot 35 percent from the field and had long scoreless stretches full of turnovers and clanged jumpers.
The Devils got key contributions from a couple of seldom-used subs, freshmen swingmen Chanse Creekmur and Keala King. They also, truth be told, got the benefit of a couple of iffy calls by the officials.
No one talked about that during postgame interviews, but A&T coach Jerry Eaves let the stripes have it over what seemed like a lack of calls for the Aggies on their end of the floor.
ASU earned the win, though, with a decisive edge in rebounds (43-35, 14 for rebound star Kyle Cain) and an effective halfcourt trap. Plus the fact that the Aggies didn't hit a shot over the final 7:52 of the game and didn't even score.
"Do I feel good about where we are?" ASU coach Herb Sendek said. "I like our team and I like our guys, but we've got a lot of work to do."
That work starts Sunday night when the team reconvenes after Christmas to prepare for the start of the Pac-10 season. The Devils' next game is at Oregon State a week from today.
A three-point play by Trent Lockett gave ASU a 13-5 lead at the 15:25 mark of the first half, but then the Devils started going cold. The Aggies went on a 12-0 run that lasted almost nine minutes to take a 25-20 lead, and a follow dunk by center Thomas Coleman with 1.6 seconds to play in the half have A&T a 29-23 halftime lead.
"As the shots didn't fall, you could feel the the air coming out of the building," Sendek said before crediting the holiday crowd of 6,154 for helping with the win.
When the Aggies went up 34-23 on another Coleman dunk at 18:15 of the second half, Sendek made a bold move. He brought on four players in place of the starters -- including Creekmur and King -- and made it clear he wasn't happy with the starters' energy level.
"They stepped up and brought us back in the game," ASU's Rik Kuksiks said of the bench crew. "Coach got mad at us and pulled everybody out and brought in the second unit."
Creekmur drilled a three with his first shot. The Aggies went up 12 at 38-26, then King converted a three-point play to make it 39-33. Creekmur's second three made it 39-36 and King tied it at 50 with a layup with 4:09 to play.
Kuksiks' three from the left baseline gave ASU it's first lead since the first half with 2:55 left, and the Aggies kept missing shots. They missed their final eight attempts of the game.
ASU (7-4) won its fourth straight but launched 27 three-point tries, two days after trying 29 against Long Beach State. Sendek admitted the figure was too many, but said the shots were a by-product of how A&T defended in the post and forced the kick-out pass to the perimeter.
The Sun Devils improved to 20-11 in games decided by six or fewer points over the past four seasons.
Stats of the night: Cain missed all five of his shot attempts and didn't score a point, but still got 14 boards. And ASU's field-goal percentage was its second-lowest ever in a win during the Sendek era. ASU shot 28.6 percent and beat Arizona 53-47 on January 21, 2009, at the McKale Center.