Mark Few didn’t even try to defend his Gonzaga Bulldogs’ effort on defense Friday night.
“It was absolutely the worst I’ve seen in my 16 years here,” the Zags sixth-year head basketball coach said.
It certainly wasn’t the kind of defensive statement Few was hoping his Zags would make in their first official game in the McCarthey Athletic Center, their new $25 million, 6,000-seat arena. But it was the one they made.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, there are two ends to a basketball court. They were able to accomplish enough at the other one to hold off determined Portland State 98-80 in a non-conference game, much to the delight of a sellout crowd that showed up to witness the christening of the Zags’ new digs.
Senior Ronny Turiaf scored a career-high 33 points and pulled down nine rebounds, and the Bulldogs shot 65 percent from the field in turning back the stubborn Vikings in the season opener for both teams.
But nothing came easy for GU, which played without junior guard Erroll Knight, who injured a thumb at practice on Wednesday, and junior center J.P. Batista (see story below).
Portland State, behind the inside play of Seamus Boxley and the outside shooting of Jake Schroeder, put the Bulldogs in an early 31-23 hole and might have made things much more interesting had it not been for a bizarre set of circumstances at the end of the first half.
The odd sequence started when the Vikings’ Will Funn hit a fall-away jumper at the buzzer to tie the game at 46. The senior point guard, who had picked up a technical foul earlier in the half, then got locked up with GU’s Adam Morrison and was whistled for a second technical foul that brought an automatic ejection.
Without Funn, who finished the first half with six points, seven assists, two steals and one rebound, PSU was never to get back into its first-half groove and eventually buckled under Turiaf’s inside dominance.
Turiaf, a 6-foot-10 forward, took the game over midway through the second half by scoring 12 straight points to give the Bulldogs a 79-68 lead.
“He was phenomenal,” Few said of Turiaf, who made 12 of 18 basket tries and 9 of 12 free throws. “We’ve seen it all before. But he’s the one guy right now who understands what it takes to win in this program and at this level.
“Now its time for him to teach the other guys.”
Portland State coach Heath Schroyer called Turiaf a “lottery pick.”
“And they surround him with four guys who can really shoot it,” he added, “so you have to kind of pick your poison. Gonzaga is a real load.”
The Vikings tried double-teaming Turiaf at times, only to have him kick the ball out the perimeter for easy jump shots for this teammates. When they tried to defend him one-on-one, there was simply no way.
“I just did my job,” said Turiaf, who opted to return for his senior year instead of declaring for the NBA Draft last spring. “I stayed here for that reason. I just wish we’d have played a little better.”
Portland State had something to do with the Bulldogs’ defensive problems. But the Zags gave up way to many uncontested perimeter jumpers and post entry passes to suit Few.
“We’ll chalk it up to stage fright this time,” he said. “But we’ve got some guys who are going to have to figure things out defensively.”
The Buldogs got 18 points form Sean Mallon and 14 each from Nathan Doudney and Morrison. Sophomore point guard Derek Raivio finished his first collegiate start with nine points and a career-high 11 assists. PSU, which shot 61.2 percent from the field, got 22 points from Blake Walker, 21 from Boxley and 20 from Schroeder, who made 6 of 10 3-pointers.
The Zags won’t have much time to deal with their defensive issues. Montana invades the McCarthey Athletic Center on Sunday for a 2 p.m. non-conference matchup.
Batista must sit three games
Gonzaga junior college transfer J.P. Batista cannot play in the school’s first three regular-season basketball games, the NCAA decided Friday.
Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth said team officials were notified of the decision late Friday afternoon, just hours prior to the No. 25 Bulldogs’ opener against Portland State.
However, a source close to the situation said the violation occurred when Batista’s junior college coach had sent him to a summer camp and that was considered an extra benefit.
Batista, a junior forward, will also miss Sunday’s game against Montana and Wednesday’s game with Idaho.
He will be eligible to play against No. 6 Illinois on Nov. 27 at the Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis.
“We are very disappointed in the ruling, but we are glad some closure has come to this situation,” Roth said. “We plan to appeal as permitted by NCAA protocol. We realize J.P. will miss the first two games this weekend, but we’re hopeful the appeal will be upheld and he could play in Wednesday’s game.”
Batista transferred to Gonzaga from Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan. He played his freshman season at Western Nebraska Community College.
Wire and staff report
Gonzaga 98, Portland St. 80
Portland State (0-1) – Walker 8-15 5-6 22, Sconiers 0-1 1-4 1, Boxley 8-10 4-6 21, Funn 3-5 0-0 6, Schroeder 6-10 2-4 20, Neeley 1-2 0-2 2, Stock 0-1 0-0 0, Jarrell 2-3 0-0 4, Hollist 1-1 0-0 2, S.Morrison 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 30-49 12-24 80.
Gonzaga (1-0) – A.Morrison 7-12 0-0 14, Mallon 7-10 4-5 18, Turiaf 12-18 9-12 33, Raivio 2-7 4-4 9, Doudney 6-7 0-1 14, Altidor-Cespedes 3-3 0-0 6, Michaelson 1-1 0-0 2, Floyd 0-0 0-0 0, Pendergraft 0-1 0-0 0, MacLeod 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 39-60 17-22 98.
Halftime—Tied at 46. 3-Point goals—Portland St. 8-17 (Schroeder 6-10, Boxley 1-1, Walker 1-4, Stock 0-1, Jarrell 0-1), Gonzaga 3-7 (Doudney 2-3, Raivio 1-3, A.Morrison 0-1). Fouled out—S.Morrison. Rebounds—Portland St. 21 (Boxley 6), Gonzaga 28 (Turiaf 9). Assists—Portland St. 22 (Funn 7), Gonzaga 26 (Raivio 11). Total fouls—Portland St. 20, Gonzaga 19.
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