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December 5, 2010Entering Sunday, Arizona State was the lone major conference school in the country to have played just one home game.
Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek felt his program had reached a point where more challenging non-conference scheduling was appropriate.
But after his team dropped its third straight game with a 67-61 loss to Richmond in front of 7,731 at Wells Fargo Arena Sunday, it's clear it isn't ready for prime time quite yet.
It remains to be seen how the challenging November and December slate will help the team in conference play, but with seven newcomers to incorporate and several key starters to replace, the program, at 3-4, is off to its worst start since 1998-99.
Richmond, a 26-game winner and 7-seed in the NCAA Tournament last season, again appears strong with three starters back and a win over then-No. 8 ranked Purdue under its belt.
Neither team could build more than a one possession advantage in the second half until an 11-4 run by Richmond turned a 54-54 game at the 5:09 mark into a 65-58 advantage on a free throw by star guard Kevin Anderson with 1:40 remaining.
ASU attempted a late comeback, but missed three straight 3-pointers -- two on one possession by senior guard Ty Abbott and one by senior Rihards Kuksiks -- while down by four points at 65-61.
The Sun Devils were unable to take advantage of Richmond's six missed field goals in the final 1:16, and had costly turnovers from Abbott and senior guard Jamelle McMillan during that span.
"From our standpoint, we didn't capitalize on some opportunities to put the ball in the basket," Sendek said of his team's 19-of-55 (34.5 percent) shooting from the field. "We're a team right now that doesn't play with a wide margin for error and we have to capitalize at a higher rate than we did today in terms of making plays and converting opportunities that we had."
Kuksiks and freshman post Kyle Cain led the Sun Devils with 14 points apiece, as Kuksiks continued to emerge from the shooting slump he was mired in to start the season with a 4-of-7 performance from behind the 3-point line.
With freshman enter Jordan Bachynski unable to play after turning an ankle in the team's Saturday practice, Cain played 30 minutes and made 6-of-9 from the field.
Sophomore wing Trent Lockett added a double-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assist while Abbott had 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting.
The Spiders (7-2), were led by a dominant performance by skilled 6-foot-10 senior post Justin Harper, who had 23 points and seven rebounds on 10-of-14 shooting from the field.
Harper hit a 3-pointer to open the game's scoring and was instrumental in Richmond's fast 14-6 start.
Sendek used 11 players in the first half in an effort to find some lineup combination that would give him the type of effectiveness he was looking for.
Improved defensive tenacity helped the Sun Devils hold the Spiders to 17 points over the final 14 minutes of the first half, at which point the Spiders held a narrow 31-28 advantage.
ASU took a one possession lead three times during the second half, but Richmond responded in every instance.