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Gonzaga returns home and beats North Dakota State 102-60

Brandon Clarke led the newly minted No. 1 team in the country to a dominant victory in the first game back from Maui.

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

The Gonzaga Bulldogs ascended to the #1 spot in the AP polls on Monday morning, and then took the floor on Monday night and showed why. The opponent wasn’t Duke and the setting wasn’t Maui, but it didn’t matter for the Zags en route to a 102-60 win over the North Dakota State Bison. As it turns out, North Dakota State’s assessment of the Zags in its pre-game media notes was spot on:

Every Gonzaga starter scored in double figures, led by Brandon Clarke who finished with 18 points with a perfect 9-9 from the field to go along with 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. Filip Petrusev chipped in 11 points to lead the reserves.

The freshly minted Maui Invitational champions looked a bit lethargic during the game’s opening 10 minutes, which wasn’t too much of a surprise considering the high of last week’s games and a student body that was still trickling back to campus from Thanksgiving break. The Bison also did a great job of hitting shots, converting over 50% of their attempts through the first 10 minutes of the game to take a 19-18 lead midway through the opening half. But then Gonzaga did what Gonzaga does, and reeled off a 35-6 run to close out the first half and take a 53-25 lead into the break.

Gonzaga’s defense sparked that knockout blow, with a flurry of steals and blocks that led to a lot of transition opportunities. When they weren’t running out on a dunk or layup, the Zags were sinking the majority of their threes, and they made the game look pretty easy for extended stretches of the game.

With the win essentially secured at halftime, the focus turned to how Gonzaga would address the sudden crisis at the backup point guard position. News trickled out before the game started that graduate transfer Geno Crandall would miss the next 4-6 weeks thanks to a fractured right hand sustained during practice on Sunday.

Few looked to be holding an open audition for the role of Perkins’ backup. Greg Foster Jr. got the first turn off the bench, but he didn’t get much of an opportunity to put the offense through its paces as Norvell handled most of the duties handling the ball and initiating the offense when Perkins took a break though Foster did end up with 5 assists. Joel Ayayi also received extended minutes for the first time all season (and looked pretty good) in what will be an interesting storyline to follow over the coming games.

As the Zags continued to build on their lead in the second half, highlighted by a 51-second outburst from Corey Kispert where he converted a trio of three-pointers on consecutive possessions, Mark Few was able to turn the game over to the bench for the final six minutes of the game. Gonzaga finished over the century mark for the third time this season, and will return to action on Saturday in Omaha against Creighton.