Following an impressive freshman season, James Harden elected to pass up a chance at the NBA in favor of another year at Arizona State. The way he’s played this season, it’s hard to imagine Harden staying for another one after this.
Coming off one of the best performances of his collegiate career, Harden looks to follow that up when he leads the No. 19 Sun Devils against visiting Jackson State on Thursday.
Arizona State (5-1) returns to Tempe after taking third place in the 76 Classic in Anaheim. Harden set a tournament record with 87 points after scoring 15 in a win over Charlotte last Thursday and 32 in a loss to Baylor the next night before a career-high and tournament-record 40 points in the Sun Devils’ 88-58 win over Texas El Paso on Sunday.
“James had a remarkable game,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “It was mesmerizing to watch.”
Harden was 14-of-25 from the floor, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range, and added eight rebounds and four assists.
Afterward, he credited his team’s defense, which is holding opponents to 59.5 points for the season and limited the Miners to 30.2 percent shooting, for his success.
“We had to maintain (focus) on the defensive end because I’m going to get my buckets in transition,” Harden said. “That was the most important thing. My teammates did a wonderful job of getting the pass on target.”
Harden, among the nation’s scoring leaders with 27.0 points per game, returned to school this season after an impressive freshman campaign in which he averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals. He was the first Arizona State player to score 40 points in a game since Eddie House against UCLA in 2000.
“(Harden’s) played great on a number of occasions,” Sendek said. “It is difficult to split hairs and say which one is better than another.”
Led by Harden, Arizona State is off to its best start since 2004-05 when it began 11-1. With a win Thursday, the Sun Devils would be 6-1 for just the second time in 16 seasons.
With six losses in its first seven games, Jackson State figures to have a difficult time Thursday.
After beating North Carolina Central 69-49 on Saturday for their first win of the season, the Tigers couldn’t sustain that momentum and lost 73-59 to Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday.
Garrison Johnson scored 13 points and Grant Maxey was the only other Tiger in double figures with 11. Jackson State was 1-of-14 from 3-point range and shot 38.8 percent from the field overall.
With the loss, the Tigers, who were expected to battle for the Southwestern Athletic Conference title this season after nearly winning the conference tournament in 2007-08, fell to 0-5 in true road games this season. It’s been outscored in those losses by an average of 12.4 points.
Arizona State has won both previous meetings with Jackson State, including a 79-48 victory in Tempe in 2004.