In years in which Arizona State fields a competitive basketball team, there often seems to be something missing from the Sun Devils’ NCAA Tournament resume.
Despite winning more than 20 games in four of the past six years, the Sun Devils have made just one tournament appearance under head coach Herb Sendek, thanks in large part to their lack of quality wins — especially on the road against non-conference foes.
But ASU took at least a small step toward changing that Tuesday. Sophomore guard Jahii Carson willed the Sun Devils to their biggest road win in years, scoring 40 points on 16-of-25 shooting to help ASU hang on for an 86-80 win at UNLV — the highest single-game scoring output since James Harden scored 40 against UTEP on Nov. 30, 2008.
“It wasn’t just incredible because he had 40,” CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo Wednesday. “It was a clean 40, and the 40 points helped him win. It really, really helped them win. He played within himself, paced himself well so he didn’t run out of gas.
“That’s a big win for ASU. UNLV isn’t great. They don’t have good guards. But to go on the road, to get into foul trouble, your best shooter can’t hit a jumpshot, then your best player gets a clean 40 and seven. I’ll take it any night.”
Carson’s 40-point game made him just the fourth ASU player to reach the milestone along with Eddie House, Paul Williams and Harden. The 5-foot-10 guard’s explosion against UNLV was one of three monster performances Tuesday, along with Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky (43 points) and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart (39 points). But how does Carson rank among the country’s best players?
“I don’t think he’s in that hierarchy,” Gottlieb said. “He struggled this summer. He tries to be a true point guard, but the genius to what Herb does is he lets him be himself. He’s a scoring guard. He leads by scoring, then puts guys in position to make plays.
“I think he’s tremendous. I don’t know if he can carry them to the NCAA Tournament, mostly because the league is better. It’s a pretty good start what they’ve been able to put together.”
Despite the fact that Gottlieb doesn’t think Carson ranks among the best college players in the country, the Mesa native is likely in his last season at ASU before making the jump to professional basketball. But Gottlieb said Carson will likely have a lengthy NBA career, regardless of what role he fills.
“Somewhere between Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas,” Gottlieb said of Carson’s NBA potential. “The better he is defensively and the better shooter he is, the more longevity he’ll have.”