Mississippi Valley State was playing about as hard as it possibly could. The Delta Devils were pressing, trapping, running the floor and battling inside against taller Gonzaga.
They were hanging tough, trailing by just five near the midpoint of the first half.
And then they weren’t.
Sophomore guard Josh Perkins hit four 3-pointers as Gonzaga quickly pulled away and cruised to a 97-63 victory in front of a full house of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
No. 8 Gonzaga (7-0) tuned up for Saturday’s showdown against Arizona in Los Angeles by handing out 23 assists and shooting 56 percent from the field.
“Oh man, it (shooting stroke) feels good. Hope it keeps going,” said Perkins, who is 17 of 32 from 3 (53 percent) this season. “Lot of credit to my teammates for finding me.”
Mississippi Valley State, led by Amos Given’s 14 points, dropped to 0-9.
The Zags’ concentration slipped at times and they were turnover-prone in the first half, but some of the miscues were directly related to Mississippi Valley State’s quickness and pressure defense.
“That team is quick on quick,” GU coach Mark Few said. “You can’t simulate that in practice. We do have some guys that are a little bit casual and need to tighten some things up, but we only turned it over three or four times in the second half.”
Few added that the Zags are battling some sickness and fatigue after playing three games in four days in Orlando, Florida.
“We knew we had to come in with a high level of intensity and focus, regardless of the fact it wasn’t a big-time game,” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “But we’re glad it’s over and we handled our business and now all of our attention is on Saturday.”
Gonzaga got quality shots on nearly every turnover-free possession, and many of those came from behind the 3-point arc. The Zags made nine 3s in the first half and 12 overall. They connected on 13 against Iowa State on Sunday in the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational.
“It seemed like the first half, really all game, they were clogging the paint and the bigs couldn’t really get going, but that left 3-pointers wide open,” said Collins, who still powered for a pair of first-half dunks and was fouled on both plays.
Perkins took over after baskets by Silas Melson and Przemek Karnowski extended GU’s lead to 28-18. He hit four 3-pointers in 3 1/2 minutes and suddenly the Zags were on top 44-21.
Perkins said opponents face a quandary defending both Gonzaga’s interior game and perimeter shooting.
“There’s a problem down low and there’s a problem out top,” he said. “It’s a scary team. Przemek, J3 (Johnathan Williams), Z-bo (Collins) and Killian (Tillie) do a good job finding open shooters when they get doubled.”
Gonzaga used its bench throughout the second half. Twelve Zags played and 11 scored. Freshman forward Rui Hachimura poured in 10 points in just 13 minutes. The bench contributed 46 points.
Gonzaga’s lead reached 40 with 7:24 remaining, but Mississippi Valley State’s effort never wavered.
“I thought we did what we had to do,” Few said. “We played a team that kind of presented an interesting style, undersized, but man, they played super hard. We couldn’t really run normal offense because they were just trapping everything when we swung the ball.”
Perkins and Melson each finished with 15 points. Collins and Williams-Goss had 13 points apiece. Williams-Goss added a team-high five assists.
Gonzaga converted 11 steals, three each by Williams-Goss and Tillie, and 17 Delta Devils turnovers into 22 points. The Zags dominated the boards 45-34 with Hachimura and Collins each grabbing nine.
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