With six minutes left in the first half, Gonzaga held a four-point lead over hot-shooting Southern. Four minutes later, the Bulldogs were up by 22.
Gonzaga blitzed the Jaguars with a 31-7 run to close the first half and cruised to a 117-72 season-opening men’s basketball victory Friday in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. It was the 12th-ranked Bulldogs’ highest point total since a 121-85 victory over Loyola Marymount during the 1993-94 season.
It took the better part of the first half for Gonzaga’s defense to corral Southern’s perimeter-oriented offense. Once that happened, the Jaguars’ shooting percentage plunged and the Bulldogs’ converted, often in transition or via second-chance baskets at the other end.
“They were hitting a lot of tough shots and we were helping a little too early and giving them a lot of good looks,” said senior guard Steven Gray, who had 25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals in 28 minutes. “They were knocking everything down and hanging with us.
“We knew if we stayed solid defensively things would balance out a little bit. We were really getting up and pressuring them and we generated a lot offense in that run with our defense.”
Gray had plenty of company in the scorebook as six Zags reached double figures. Elias Harris, showing no rust from a shoulder injury that kept him out of last week’s exhibition win over Southern Oregon, had three dunks en route to 12 points. Sam Dower came off the bench to score 19 points in 17 minutes.
Mathis Monninghoff drained all four of his 3-point attempts and finished with 12 points. He started and finished GU’s 18-0 run late in the first half with 3-pointers.
“It was awesome,” the 6-foot-7 freshman forward from Germany said. “After I made my first 3, I wasn’t nervous at all. It was a good feeling and I kept shooting.”
Robert Sacre, with his father, Southern athletic director Greg LaFleur watching from a courtside seat, chipped in 11 points and seven boards. Kelly Olynyk added 10 points and nine rebounds. They Bulldogs had 22 offensive boards, leading to 22 second-chance points and they held a 57-16 rebounding edge.
“They’re too big and strong for us around the basket,” said Southern coach Rob Spivery, whose team visits Washington State tonight. “That was a big concern of mine coming into the game.”
Southern, which was 5-25 last season, stayed close for a while. The Jaguars made four 3-pointers, including one by Jameel Grace that trimmed GU’s lead to 25-23. Gray quickly struck for nine points and two assists, one a lob pass to Harris for a two-handed jam. David Stockton’s 3-pointer just before the buzzer gave Gonzaga a 56-30 lead.
“He was great,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Gray. “He showed some great leadership.”
Harris scored in transition, with a nifty post move and he connected on his only 3-point attempt.
“My shoulder is absolutely fine,” Harris said. “It was a nice feeling to get back out and experience that atmosphere, to get to play again and not sit on the bench.”
Gonzaga made 13 of 22 3s and 54.2 percent of its shots overall. The Bulldogs finished with 26 assists.
The Bulldogs have a quick turnaround before facing IUPUI at 1 p.m. Sunday.