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Zags withstand streaky Aggies, 79-66

Consistent effort by bigs help Zags weather Aggies’ storm of threes and offensive rebounds

NCAA Basketball: Howard at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

You didn’t know what to expect from a Utah State team who beat up on Montana State and Mississipi Valley State and were without their second leading scorer and Mountain West Conference freshman of the year Koby McEwen.

The Zags’ 18 offensive and 54 total rebound average in their first two games were good enough to land them in the top 10 of college basketball heading into tonight’s game, but a physical Utah State made sure that those numbers were not replicated.

In the first half, the Aggies made eight threes (shooting 47%) and scored 15 second chance points, accounting for 39 of their 42 points. What wasn’t falling outside seemed to relentlessly fall into the Aggies’ hands.

The torrid three point shooting against Texas Southern and Howard didn’t make an appearance either. Heading into the night the Zags averaged 12.5 three pointers a game, eleventh most in the country. They would hit 5 on the night, while attempting 18, ten less than their 28 attempt average.

The red-hot efficiency muted the credible performance by the Zags offense, who were still able to find open spots and passing lanes throughout the first half, shooting 50 precent from the field. However, the difficulties inside for the bigs was notable as Williams went 1 for 5 and Jacob Larsen played a limited minute in the first half, picking up two quick fouls trying to guard more capable and larger opponents.

The second half, however, showed the Zags defense clamp down on their assignments and perhaps the streaky Aggies offense falling back to their norm as they made 3 and of their 10 attempted threes.

Utah State’s coach Tim Duryea credited the Zags bigs on making field goal looks difficult for his guys.

“You saw the value of size, defensively, tonight,” Duryea said. “They do a great job of what we call ‘Big-to-Help.’ Bigs come over, they don’t foul, they block shots, they change shots.”

Williams perhaps was the outlier, for tonight. Normally the textbook “Big-to-Help” player, he picked up his third foul within the first minute of the second half, and subsequently his fourth when he checked back in quickly at the midway point. The loss of the senior resulted in the team leaning on Killian Tillie who did not disappoint. Tillie racked up 20 points and 9 rebounds in his 35 minutes on the court.

Corey Kispert also played a major part in filling the stat sheet, as he racked up 12 points and 9 rebounds in 33 minutes for the freshman. Excluding the foul-troubled Williams (21 minutes), the Zags starters played 136 of the available 200 minutes, a noticeable switch from the previous two games of the season.

Silas Melson showed some senior leadership, contributing 12 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists without a turnover.

Larsen came in with a fresh start in the second half, compiling an assist, a bucket and 3 blocks in 6 minutes of the second half. The Zags pushed themselves away from the clinging Aggies by going on a 17 point run at around the 10 minute mark of the second half. Free throw shooting was an additional aid to the Zags, who were 18 of 20.

Expect another competitive game in the opening round of the PK, as the Zags face the 3-0 Ohio State Buckeyes on November 23. The Buckeyes last win happened to come against the Texas Southern Tigers, 82-64.