Former Connecticut ringleader Kemba Walker, who knows a thing or two about long NCAA tournament runs, reached out with a gentle nudge to old friend Jahii Carson on Sunday after Arizona State was named to the NCAA field.

"He said, 'On the big stage, big players shine and show up, so what are you going to do?'" Carson said.

Carson's response included a slight smile.

"We'll see."

Consider it a warning.

Carson, the engine that propels ASU, will lead the No. 10 seed Sun Devils against No. 7 seed Texas on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament Midwest Regional in Milwaukee. It will be the Sun Devils' first NCAA appearance since 2009, when sophomore guard James Harden pushed them to the round of 32 before leaving for the NBA. The sophomore Carson plans to turn pro after this season, and he is "ecstatic" about this opportunity.

"This is definitely a stage I want to show my stuff," said Carson, who averages 18.6 points and 4.5 assists per game, the only player in the Pac-12 to average at least 16 points and four assists.

"I've seen a lot of guys step up to the plate and play some of their best basketball in the tournament. And I think us three guys right here are going to step up and play some of the best basketball that we've played our whole career, period. I know I've dreamed of playing in it. I know guys right here have dreamed of playing in it. I think we can do something special."

Carson shared the interview room with seniors Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall when he said that, and it will likely take a return to form by all three J-amigos to move the Sun Devils into the third round against either Michigan or Wofford on Saturday.

The Sun Devils (21-11) have lost five of their last seven games, and consistent production has been an issue. Bachynski leads NCAA Division I with 4.13 blocked shots per game this season and is averaging 11.1 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. But he has scored in double figures in only one of the last seven games.

Marshall, who averages 15.0 points a game, may be even more integral to ASU's chances moving forward. A case could be made that without his clutch shooting against Arizona and in two games against Cal, the Sun Devils may not have made the NCAA tournament.

Marshall scored 29 points the 69-66, double-overtime victory over the UA on Feb. 14, topping it off with eight points -- two 3-pointers, a driving jumper -- in the final 94 seconds. His 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining in regulation at Cal sent an 89-78 victory into overtime, and he had 22 against Cal in a 78-60 victory on March 1, ASU's last victory. But Marshall has scored in double figures in only three of the last seven games while making 26-of-77 field goal attempts, 14-of-50 3-point attempts.

"All I can do is keep shooting and tell myself the next one is going in," said Marshall, who said he has put up an extra 500 shots a day since the team got home following a 79-58 loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. "I don't let a lot of things affect my confidence. I don't think we do either as a team do. I think we just need to come together. When we are connected, we are a tough team to play against. I know we have a lot of doubters. We want to show what we've got."

While Jonathan Gilling has stepped up off the bench by making 15 of his last 29 3-point field goal attempts, ASU's offense is at its best when Marshall also is making his shots, because defenses have a more difficult time collapsing on Bachynski and clogging Carson's penetration lanes.

"He's as big a part of the team as anybody," Carson said of Marshall.