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Gonzaga exploits size, strength advantage inside to roll past Howard

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 14, 2017, 10:33 p.m.

It was a mismatch at nearly every position on the floor, but probably the most glaring in the paint.

At one point, Gonzaga 6-foot-11 freshman center Jacob Larsen simply reached over the top of a couple of shorter Howard players – like a parent versus a kid on the playground – to collect an offensive rebound.

The Denmark native rose up and dunked the ball home, filling two columns of the stat sheet that reflected the biggest difference between the 17th-ranked Zags and Bison.

Gonzaga (2-0) pulled down 11 offensive rebounds and posted 16 second-chance points in the first half alone as the Zags cruised to a 106-69 victory Tuesday in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Howard’s tallest starter was 6-8, 220-pound Cameron Lewis, but he picked up a couple of first-half fouls and only played 9 minutes as the Zags dashed in front 54-27. It would have been 30 at half, but the Bison executed a slick inbounds play, firing a long pass to Kyle Foster for a 25-footer just before the buzzer.

Gonzaga overpowered the Bison on the boards 51-33. Howard played zone defense, mainly a 2-3, and it left openings after missed shots.

“We were trying to enforce that the most because we knew they were a small team,” GU senior forward Johnathan Williams said. “And when you zone, there’s more rebounding pockets than when you’re in man (defense).”

Williams missed on a post-up move early in the second half, but Corey Kispert was all alone for a putback basket.

Two plays later, Williams backed 6-5, 200-pound Jalen Jones underneath the rim for an easy layup. Two plays later, Josh Perkins missed a 3-pointer, but Kispert was there for the rebound. Perkins had another go at a 3-pointer that hit iron and Williams snagged the rebound in traffic, resulting in a pair of free throws.

“That was the game plan,” Kispert said. “Coach (Mark) Few wanted us to crash the glass really hard and we came up with a lot of rebounds.”

The Zags dominated Texas Southern in the season opener 57-35 on the glass. The Tigers had more of a inside presence with 7-2 Trayvon Reed, but it didn’t stop the Zags from grabbing 20 offensive boards.

The Zags corrected a minor sore spot from the opener. Few noted that the Zags were soft at times in the first half versus Texas Southern and lost out on most of the 50-50 balls.

“We were really physical with the ball,” GU forward Killian Tillie said, “not tipping it around, but just grabbing ball.”

Gonzaga’s superior size made it tough on the Bison (0-3) at the offensive end. Guard RJ Cole is a crafty ball-handler with a knack for drawing fouls. He’d attempted 20 free throws in Howard’s first two games and was averaging 25 points.

He scored 16 points but made just 5 of 17 shots. He made frequent trips into the lane but rarely finished against the 6-9 Williams, 6-10 Tillie or 6-11 Jacob Larsen.

“We had to stop their 3s first,” Tillie said. “Every time they went at the rim, they went into J3 (Williams) or Jacob. It was good for us.”

Perkins was solid on defense on Cole and he had a lot of help from the frontcourt. Cole had just four assists – he came in averaging seven – and three turnovers.

Larsen had a big night at both ends of the court. He had nine points, nine boards and four assists, one coming on a nifty bounce pass while he was prone on the court.

Gonzaga held a 31-point edge in paint points.

Zach Norvell led Gonzaga with 18 points, 17 in the second half. Kispert had 11 of his 13 in the first half and Rui Hachimura chipped in 12 points.

The Zags solved Howard’s zone defense with 57-percent shooting and 14 3-pointers.