It was the latest home opener on the calendar ever played at the McCarthey Athletic Center, but home cooking was good to the Gonzaga Bulldogs as they dispatched the Northwestern State Demons in a 95-57 win.
Corey Kispert was dialed in for Gonzaga as he finished with 27 points (10-13 FG) and 7 rebounds. Anton Watson matched a career high with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks in a performance that demonstrated the breadth of his skillset, and the rawness that is still present in his game. Drew Timme, sporting a dashing mustache, had a quiet but effective game with 12 points and 8 rebounds. The Tricky Trio combined for 30 points as Dominick Harris (10 points, 2 assists) and Julian Strawther (8 points, 1 steal) enjoyed their first extended play of the young season.
Gonzaga opened the game flexing the firepower that enabled it to knock off three teams currently ranked in the Top 7 of the AP Poll. The scoreboard read 19-5 six minutes into the game, and the Zags looked well on their way to the 50-point blowout that many expected. But then they didn’t.
Sure, the Bulldogs were always firmly in control of the game and at no point where they ever at risk of losing, but there were certainly some extended stretches during the first half where the team execution was lacking. The Demons took advantage of Gonzaga’s lapses and narrowed the deficit to seven points with eight minutes to play in the first half with superior energy and fortuitous buckets as the shot clock expired, but that was as close as they got.
As the buzzer sounded for halftime and the Zags retreated back to the locker room with a 43-30 lead, Mark Few was probably as irritated as he’s been all season. Such are the standards set for the No. 1 team in the country that a 13-point halftime advantage is disappointing.
Whatever was said at halftime snapped the Zags out of their malaise, and they stamped their authority during the opening possessions of the second half to snuff out any hope that Northwestern State may have harbored of making the nation’s no. 1 team sweat on its home floor. Kispert and Watson were dominant, before handing off the closing duties to promising freshmen Harris and Strawther who showed they should not be forgotten amidst the stellar play of the third member of their cohort in Jalen Suggs.
The Zags comfortably won, but there is still work to be done. When you’re chasing a national championship, and you legitimately have the talent to do it, the best teams use every game as an opportunity to move closer towards that goal. Yes, even games against teams at the other end of the college basketball hierarchy serve as a referendum on where a championship contender is on its pursuit of a title.