It was an inauspicious opening few minutes for the Gonzaga Bulldogs in what will hopefully be a long and fruitful season that extends deep into March. But, after Texas Southern held a lead for the first four minutes of the game, a Killian Tillie tip-in put the Zags ahead and it was all Gonzaga for the rest of the night in a 97-69 win that officially rang in the 2017-18 campaign.
Gonzaga had five players reach double digit scoring in a balanced offensive attack led by Josh Perkins who clearly had his shooting shoes on (size en fuego) as he went 6-10 from the 3-point line to lead all scorers with 20 points (15 of which came in the first half). Silas Melson was quiet on the offensive end in the first half, and had a tough night from the 3-point line, but he was assertive getting to the rim in the second half and finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in a solid all-around effort.
Johnathan Williams picked up where he left off last season finishing with 16 points and 8 rebounds, while Killian Tillie just missed out on a double-double (that he almost earned in the first half alone) with 9 points and 12 rebounds. And with a small Japanese media contingent in the house, Rui Hachimura came off the bench to chip in 11 points.
Debuts were made by Zach Norvell Jr. (5 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds), Jacob Larsen (9 points, 7 rebounds), Jesse Wade, Alex Martin, and Corey Kispert (10 points, 4 rebounds), with Kispert making the biggest splash after winning the only starting job that was truly up for grabs (I don’t believe Tillie’s starting spot was ever in jeopardy despite Few bringing him off the bench during the exhibition).
Despite an agitated Brian Michaelson highlighting Gonzaga’s 11 first-half turnovers during his interview at the break, the offense looked dynamic and explosive for extended stretches during the game (necessary qualifier for the competition). Mark Few and the coaching staff do a good job of adjusting to the strengths of the personnel, so it was not surprising to see a departure from the post heavy action that was a hallmark of the last few years that featured the likes of Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis on the frontline. Instead, we saw the team play with a little more tempo that accentuated the athleticism and shooting ability of the newest iteration of the Zags.
Gonzaga’s defense looks to be a little behind the offense at this point in the year, despite holding Texas Southern scoreless for nearly five minutes in the first half. However, with the athletes on this team, there is definitely significant room for improvement. In fact, though the Zags walked away with an easy win, there is still significant room for growth in all areas of the game for a squad that is certainly deep in talent but short on experience.
The lack of national expectations going into the season will allow this team to grow without much external pressure, but there is a strong foundation of talent that will certainly turn heads throughout the season. The fans were clamoring for tacos early in the first half, and though the Zags missed the century mark by just three points, there will certainly be more opportunities for free bites in the future with the firepower Gonzaga can field.