As he walked down from a podium following his introduction as Texas Tech’s interim basketball coach on Oct. 4, Chris Walker was asked by a reporter what his coaching style would look like when his new team hit the floor.
The gist of his response: You won’t see us scoring 58 points per game.
That was Tech’s offensive clip a season ago, a cringe-worthy number that equated to dead last in the Big 12 Conference.
Things weren’t much better at Arizona State, where coach Herb Sendek’s squad finished 10th in the Pac-12 at 61 points per contest.
But when the Sun Devils (9-2) and Red Raiders (5-3) tip off at 1 p.m. today inside United Spirit Arena, the battle is likely to look much different — surely much quicker — than it would have a season ago.
“Right now we are really enjoying what I can say is a new style for ASU,” said senior forward Carrick Felix, whose Sun Devils have seen a nearly 16 points-per-game rise in scoring this season. “It is due to our personnel. We have a lot of athletic guys who are able to run the floor with their abilities. It is a fun team to be around.”
The key component of that personnel for Arizona State has been redshirt freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who is fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring at 17.9 points per game. Sendek has given the first-year player — Carson was a non-qualifier academically last season and couldn’t play in games — the keys to an offense that is playing at a faster pace than at any time in recent years.
“He controls the game and gets his guys in line,” Tech forward Jaye Crockett said of Carson. “He pushes the ball off misses and makes.”
Carson leads the Sun Devils in scoring, but others have benefitted from the pace at which he and the Sun Devils are operating. Felix is averaging a career-high 15.1 points per game — five points above his average last season — due in large part, he said, to the team’s increased tempo.
“It has benefitted me a lot,” he said. “It allows me to use more of my athletic ability, get out and run the floor and get to the basket a little more. Last year I was settling for a lot of threes. This year I’m being smart about the shots I’m taking.”
Crockett has been aided by Tech’s faster style — the Red Raiders are second in the Big 12 in scoring at 78 points per game — in much the same way. Walker on Friday noted that the staff has called very few designed plays for Crockett, yet he is still second in the league in scoring (16.4 points per game) and is tied for first in rebounding (8.9).
Much of that production has been the result of his ability to beat opponents down the floor and clean up plays around the basket.
“Jaye is just a workhorse,” Walker said simply, “and Jaye just gets it done.”
Though Tech has been mired in a shooting slump of late, particularly from the perimeter, Walker said he isn’t overly concerned about offense at this point. What he is still waiting to see from his team is a solid defensive performance sustained throughout 40 minutes.
After two straight losses, a victory with the Big 12 Conference schedule on the horizon has become paramount, as well.
“We want to start our Christmas off early with a big win,” Tech point guard Josh Gray said. “We’re looking forward to playing against them. They run just like we run. They play a similar style as us, so we’re looking forward to it.”
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