TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- James Harden had 25 points and a season-best 13 rebounds, and Arizona State defeated Alabama State 64-53 in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night.
Harden's fellow freshman Ty Abbott added 15 points on five first-half 3-pointers.The Sun Devils (20-12), snubbed by the NCAAs, reached the 20-win mark for just the fourth time in 27 years. They will play at home against Southern Illinois in a second-round matchup Thursday night.Eric Boateng had eight points and a career-best 10 rebounds for Arizona State in front of a homecourt crowd of 4,358.Andrew Hayles scored 12 and Brandon Brooks 10 for the Hornets (20-11), the SWAC regular season champions who shot just 32 percent (19-of-59). Arizona State shot only 41 percent overall, 32 percent (7-of-22) in the second half.Arizona State blew open early leads of 18-3 and 30-9 against the cold-shooting Hornets and were up 43-21 early in the second half.But Alabama State rallied with a 15-4 run that cut the lead to 47-36 on Brandon Brooks' three free throws with 14:09 to play.Harden's fallaway 3-pointer made it 59-44 but the Hornets scored the next seven to make it 59-51 after Richard Lott's rebound basket with 3:06 left. He was fouled on the play but missed the layup. Harden followed with a driving layup, and Alabama State never got it to single digits again.Alabama State started the game 1-for-16 shooting and Abbott made three 3-pointers in a 3 1/2-minute stretch to put Arizona State up 30-9 with 5:33 left in the half. The Hornets settled down in a 12-3 run that cut the lead to 33-21 when Rashad Provitt made one of three free throws at 1:53 before the break.But the Sun Devils ended the half with a 9-0 spurt, including another 3 by Abbott and a rebound dunk by Boateng at the buzzer, to go up 39-21 at the half.Harden scored four to start the second half to give the Sun Devils their biggest lead at 43-21.Alabama State shot 25 percent (8-for-32) in the first half, compared with 48 percent (14-for-29). Abbott made 5-of-7 3s for his 15 first-half points.Hayles, the SWAC player of the year, was 1-for-7 shooting, 1-for-5 on 3s, for three first-half points.