TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Jahii Carson found the gaps in Hartford’s defense all night. Once Arizona State found its defense, the Hawks didn’t stand a chance.
Carson darted and dashed his way to 20 points and six assists, and the Sun Devils used a dominating defensive stretch in the second half to beat Hartford 71-63 Wednesday night.
Arizona State (7-1) traded baskets with the Hawks from a hot-shooting first half until picking up the pressure midway through the second.
Contesting shots and snatching steals, the Sun Devils held Hartford to one field goal for more than 11 minutes and to 9 of 31 shooting in the second half.
‘‘I was really pleased with our defense in the second half,’’ Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. ‘‘I thought that was the difference.’’
Carson had a hand in it, too.
Arizona State’s redshirt freshman point guard consistently found gaps in Hartford’s defense, getting to the rim for a basket or setting up his teammates for easy shots. He hit 9 of 12 shots, grabbed five rebounds and set up the Sun Devils for scores with his penetration even when he didn’t get the assist.
‘‘He’s a special player in this aspect: He knows how to find gaps,’’ Hartford coach John Gallagher said. ‘‘When you get a guard who can play in small spaces, you can run anything you want to run. He can create them.’’
Carrick Felix had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Eric Jacobsen added 16 points for Arizona State, which shot 56 percent to overcome an 11 for 23 night from the free-throw line.
Hartford (4-4) managed to keep up with the Sun Devils in the first half behind Nate Sikma, who broke loose from his early-season struggles by hitting six 3-pointers and scoring 26 points.
The Hawks just couldn’t handle Arizona State’s pressure and size in the second half, even missing shots at the rim as their confidence began to wane during the scoring drought.
Yolonzo Moore II had 11 points and eight rebounds, but Hartford leading scorer Mark Nwakamma missed all eight of his shots and went scoreless.
‘‘Offensively, we just got out of sorts, but credit them,’’ Gallagher said.
Arizona State held opponents to an average of 66 points through its first seven games, and Hartford hasn’t been bad, either, allowing 68 per game.
Of course, this one was all about the offense early.
With Carson breaking the Hawks down off the dribble, Arizona State made its first six shots and 15 of 24 in the first half.
Carson had 11 points by halftime and helped create opportunities for teammates, even when he didn’t get the assist.
The problem for the Sun Devils was that they couldn’t make shots when no one was guarding them — 2 for 9 on free throws — or keep the Hawks from scoring at the other end.
Firing from all over the arc, Hartford made five 3-pointers by the midpoint of the first half and 10 of its first 17 shots to take a 24-19 lead.
Sikma, the son of former NBA player Jack Sikma, led the way, hitting three 3-pointers on his way to 13 points by halftime.
The Hawks cooled off a little from the perimeter, going 6 for 16 from 3-point range, but made 13 of 26 shots overall and were still within 36-35 after Sikma hit a 3 in the closing seconds.
‘‘We've run a good offense all year and controlled the tempo all year,’’ Gallagher said. ‘‘For 25 minutes tonight, we controlled the tempo, and we made their defense move with our ball reversal.’’
The good shooting continued to open the second half, with Sikma scoring inside, then on a 3-pointer. The Sun Devils matched the Hawks almost shot for shot, and the teams traded baskets for a while, neither able to get more than a few points ahead.
Arizona State started to put its defensive foot down around the 15-minute mark, holding the Hawks to a 3-pointer by Sikma until the final 3 minutes, while Carson kept finding holes in their defense.
Repeatedly beating his man off the dribble, he set up Jacobsen for a pair of hoops inside, then scored on a high-arcing runner off the glass after sidestepping his defender. Evan Gordon added a 3-pointer from the wing, and Carson found Jacobsen again on the break for a layup after a turnover, putting Arizona State up 64-54.
‘‘Whatever I think can bring energy to the team, that’s what I do,’’ Carson said.
That energy and Arizona State’s defense turned out to be too much for the Hawks.