ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Arizona State is off to a strong start thanks to its stifling zone defense.
Jeff Pendergraph had 23 points and 10 rebounds to help the 14th-ranked Sun Devils shut down Charlotte 84-56 Thursday night in the first round of the 76 Classic.
The 49ers shot just 34.4 percent from the field and went 5-of-26 from 3-point range. Arizona State (4-0) is holding opponents to 35.1 percent shooting this season and an average of 53 points per game.
“I thought our defense kind of paved the way,” coach Herb Sendek said. “Guys played really hard, they were alert, moving well and did a good job of communicating. So our defensive effort was the difference in the game.”
James Harden added 15 points for Arizona State, which shot a tournament-record 61 percent from the floor. In the second round Friday night the Sun Devils play unbeaten Baylor, a 72-56 winner over Providence.
Harden, a first-team all-Pacific 10 Conference selection last season as a freshman, was hampered by early foul trouble and scored four points in the first half. But he regrouped to make all 11 free throws in the final 20 minutes.
Four players scored in double figures for the Sun Devils, who never trailed and opened 4-0 for only the third time in 22 seasons.
“Our bench was tremendous,” Harden said. “It was a collective effort. Once we have that every single game, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
RaShad Coleman came off the bench and scored 11 of his 14 points in the first half, including the final nine before the break for the 49ers (1-4).
Charlotte committed 21 turnovers in its fourth straight loss. The 49ers dropped their previous three games by three points or fewer.
Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz called Arizona State the “best team we’ve played all year,” including a 71-70 loss to Clemson, and joked that he would pick Sendek’s brain so he could figure out how to beat the zone.
“Their defense was excellent,” Lutz said. “We missed some pretty good shots and then I thought got a little frustrated for the first time all year.
“When you can’t simulate what they do defensively in practice, that’s the No. 1 thing,” he added. “They’re very aggressive on the ball, play the passing lanes very well, pinch any drives and communicate extremely well.”
Pendergraph paced ASU with 10 points in the first half to help the Sun Devils take a 35-23 halftime lead. Coleman made a 3-pointer that pulled Charlotte to 41-35 in the second half.
The 49ers committed six turnovers in the first 5 minutes and trailed 10-1. They shot 1-of-12 on 3-pointers in the first half.