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Sun Devils dispatch Salukis

March 21, 2008

James Harden had 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists and teammate Jeff Pendergraph flirted with the NIT record for blocked shots with eight to lead Arizona State past Southern Illinois 65-51 in the tournament's second round on Thursday night.

The young Sun Devils (21-12), left out of the NCAA field because of a weak nonconference schedule, will play a third straight NIT home game with a quarterfinal matchup Tuesday night against the winner of Friday's Creighton-Florida contest.

The Salukis (18-15), picked in the preseason to win the Missouri Valley Conference, finished a disappointing season after failing to make the NCAA tournament field o win the Missouri Valley Conference but finished third and failed to make the NCAA tournament field for the first time in seven years.

The freshman Harden was the Sun Devils' offensive catalyst, but Pendergraph provided the defensive spark. The 6-foot-9 junior tied a school record with his eight blocks, seven in the first half. He also had 12 points and 10 rebounds. The NIT record for blocks is nine.

With Pendergraph leading the way, Arizona State totaled 11 blocks, forced 11 turnovers and held Southern Illinois to 29 percent field goal shooting. The Salukis' top shooters both struggled, Randall Falker went 6-for-10 and Matt Shaw 5-for-16. Falker was the only Southern Illinois player in double figures with 13 points.

Arizona State missed six of its first seven shots, including its first six three-pointers, and fell behind 8-2 early. But the Sun Devils defense awoke their offense.

Pendergraph had all but two of Arizona States nine blocks in the first half, and the offense responded with a 23-10 run en route to a 28-23 halftime lead.

After the slow start, the Sun Devils sank six of their next 11 threes and were 10-for-27 for the game.

The Sun Devils opened up a 15-point lead and took control of the game in the first six minutes of the second half with a 14-4 spurt fueled by Ty Abbott's four-point play.

The victory was the Sun Devils 15th at home, a school record.