Arizona State's rally ends Manhattan's run NCAA TOURNAMENT SOUTHEAST REGIONAL


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Arizona State gained the Sweet 16. Manhattan gained another dose of respect.

That was the outcome in the second round of the NCAA Southeast Regional yesterday at the Pyramid, where the Sun Devils overcame a four-point halftime deficit to earn a 64-54 decision that sent them to Birmingham, Ala., for this week's regional semifinal matchup with top-seeded Kentucky.

It didn't come easy for the 13th-ranked Sun Devils (24-8) who trailed by as many as 11 before a barrage of free throws closed the gap to four, then prospered after coach Bill Frieder made some key offensive adjustments.

Manhattan surrendered control of the score and the game seven minutes into the second half, couldn't find the necessary firepower after it got behind and lost for only the fifth time in 31 games.

"I told them I didn't want to go home yet," said Arizona State center Mario Bennett, who gave the team a lecture in a huddle before halftime. "I decided we weren't going to have no Cinderella coming through us."

That was what Manhattan was: an at-large entry, 13th seed and underdog that had surprised No. 4 seed Oklahoma in the first round. A victory over Arizona State would have been even more monumental for the Jaspers, who set a school record for wins.

But Frieder had the answers for Manhattan's determined and effective defense, which held the Sun Devils to 29 percent first-half shooting and dominated the boards 24-11.

A key change made by Frieder involved swinging the ball into Bennett twice in the pivot rather than shooting immediately after it came back outside the first time.

The other alteration got 6-foot-9, 260-pound James Bacon into the lineup to help with rebounding.

Presto. A three-pointer by Jeremy Veal pulled Arizona State even at 33, then Bennett went to work with eight straight points while the Jaspers' shooting was going south.

Also, in the second half, Bacon got five rebounds, Bennett grabbed nine and the Sun Devils pulled down 15 on the offensive end.

"Our defense was outstanding the second half. That's been our signature all year," said Frieder. "And the rebounding had been ridiculous. We had to remedy that."

The mainstays, Bennett (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Ron Riley (21 points, seven rebounds, four steals) carried the Sun Devils to their 13th victory in the past 14 games.

"I think I can safely say the better team won," said Jaspers coach Fran Fraschilla, tweaking Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson, who said that wasn't the case in the first round.

Fraschilla said the team accomplished four of its six goals for the season and nearly reached the others -- to lead the country in field-goal percentage defense and win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.

"I think we showed we deserved to be in this tournament," he said.

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