Surprisingly, Killian Tillie didn’t start tonight. I think it made him mad. When he did get in the game, he took 14 shots including three 3s and three free throws. He hit them all for 28 points, to go along with 4 rebounds (3 offensive) 4 steals and two assists to lead Gonzaga over the College of Idaho 96 – 67. Young Killian put on an offensive show, putting back offensive rebounds and hitting from both mid-range and deep. Living up to last year’s “Swiss Army Knife” moniker, his interdiction in the passing lanes coupled with a couple of sweet assists allowed him to have an incredible overall game.
There were a couple of surprises in tonight’s starting line-up with Rui and Kispert joining expected starter JWII, Perkins and Melson. Kispert was probably the most surprising starter and the fact he led the team in minutes played with 30 means he’ll probably have a major role on the team as the season progresses. Although he was having trouble hitting from deep in the first half, he never hesitated in taking the open shot indicating he not only has the green light from the coaching staff but also supreme confidence in his abilities. His 3 assists and 3 rebounds coupled with a couple of nice drives to the rim illustrate a nice all-around game and value to the team even when the deep shot isn’t falling.
As far as the “old guard” goes, Perkins and Melson both seemed content to keep their contributions low key tonight and sit back like proud parents to let the youngsters have their fun. Melson had a quiet 5 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists and Perk with 2 points and 4 assists seemed content not to force the action and let the offense run organically. There were at least four instances of great ball movement where at least 8 players touched the ball before a shot went up. On the other hand, JWIII was the beast-like inside presence we all hoped and expected he’d be. His 18 points on 8 for 11 shooting along with his 6 rebounds reassured us the Zags still have solid scoring in the paint.
Rui had a usual game, sometimes incredibly low-key to go along with the flashes of brilliance we’ve come to expect. He appeared to be making a concerted effort to fit in with the flow of the offense and defense, and was doing a good job of it, but it also seemed to stilt his natural explosiveness. He loosened up in the second half and had two of the best passes in the game to go along with a great “hang-the-air” lay-up. As his minutes increase and he feels more comfortable, I expect he’ll feel more confident taking some of the shots he passed up tonight while still concentrating on team play.
Our first look at Jacob Larsen was very encouraging. He seems to have added 20 pounds of muscle to his listed weight of 227 and looked very good despite the two years of not having played against another team. He scored 12 points on 4 for 6 shooting and 4- 7 from the line to go with 5 rebounds. I was most impressed with his positioning and his hands as he six of his points came from dishes from his teammates driving to the hole. He also had back-to-back blocks and played some decent position defense in the post. An assist he dished to Rui was one of the game’s best passes.
Zach Norvell’s minutes were limited by two quick first half fouls, but his four second half 3’s showed he’ll be a capable offensive force. For about five minutes in the first half, Few went with a line-up of Larsen, Tillie, Rui, Norvell and Melson showing GU will not only be playing small ball this year but can also come at you with five big bodies.
The team looked much better offensively than expected for the first exhibition game, but that has to tempered by Tillie’s incredible performance. More encouraging is it appears several players are capable of playing several positions. Rui took the ball up court on more than one occasion and looked comfortable playing the “3” or “4”. Norvell and Kispert will both spend time playing the “2” and “3” and Tillie showed he’ll be able to score from anywhere on the court.
On the not so good side, GU was minus 3 on rebounds in the first half and only outrebounded College of Idaho 38-32 at game’s end. Another issue, CoI shot 42.3% from deep, GU only 32.3%. With so many player substitutions one could expect 3-point defense to be less than stellar and hopefully it is something that tightens up substantially as the line-up gets more steady.
Overall, an encouraging start. This team is going to have a lot of growing pains, but all the pieces are there for a very strong season.