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Corey Kispert’s career night paces Gonzaga’s in win over Alabama State

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The junior forward has been asked to step up on offense. He answered the call.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama State at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

After so much of the offense departed from last season, it was clear that Corey Kispert, one of the last men standing on the Gonzaga Bulldogs roster, would need to step up his offensive game. It looks like Kispert received that message as he scored a career-high 28 points, leading the Zags to a 95-64 win over the Alabama State Hornets.

Kispert came out aggressive early, firing from long range on a quick trigger. He finished 5-of-6 from long range and never passed up a slightly open shot. Most impressively, Kispert entered thunderdunk mode, providing the first huge highlight of the season.

Early on, the game plan appeared pretty clear. Let Kispert shoot from outside and feed the ball down low to Filip Petrusev. For the 10 minutes of the game, it was all clicking. The Gonzaga defense was feasting on turnover after turnover by Alabama State, and the offense was humming right along.

This is a young and inexperienced team, however, and that started to show its face late in the first half. The Zags went a bit stagnant while the Hornets hit three pointer after three pointer, and only took a 12 point lead into halftime.

In an interesting coaching twist out of the half, the Zags’ defense started to double-down on the low post, and the Hornets punished the Zags, repeatedly. Alabama State pulled within single digits, and within striking distance a few times. Unfortunately, the Gonzaga offense clicked in two separate bursts, one led by Kispert, and another led by Gilder, to put the score more on par with what many of us expected.

Four of the Zags five starters finished with double-digit points, only Anton Watson missed out on the party. Drew Timme added 11 points. Joel Ayayi was a more than capable backup point guard, finishing with seven assists and zero turnovers.

The backcourt of Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder was a lot of fun to watch. Both have an aggressive scoring mentality, and attacked the hoop on virtually every transition. Gilder had a bit of a slow start, shooting 1-for-8 in the first half, but shook off those cobwebs, going 4-for-5 in the second half. Woolridge finished with a tidy 5-of-6 from the floor, hitting teardrops and his only three-attempt of the game. He also doled out six assists and only turned the ball over twice.

In general, the game showed two different Gonzaga teams we will probably see quite a bit at the beginning of the season. When the offense was clicking, the Zags ran the ball with ease, and it was rather entertaining to watch. At times, however, the defensive miscues took the wind out of the sails, and this is something to pay attention to going forward.

“Defensively, it was a mixed bag,” Assistant Coach Brian Michaelson said in the post-game show. “We created a ton of turnovers, I thought we were active in that sense. I thought we did a good job in stretches. We did a horrible job at taking away the threes. We gave them up to guys we knew can shoot.”

The Hornets show 49 percent from the floor and 56 percent from three-point. Alabama State had an eFG last season of just 46 percent. The Zags defense was great in forcing turnovers, but it also gave up way too many easy looks. With so many young and new faces, this isn’t much of a surprise, and we should expect to see the defense improve as the season progresses.

The rebounding was also a bit of a question mark. The Hornets paced the Zags on the board totals for a good chunk of the game. Considering our overall athleticism and height, we should expect this to be something that is talked about at practice as well. It’ll have to be quick, because the Zags are back on the court against Arkansas Pine-Bluff on Saturday.