It took Gonzaga little time to exhibit the difference between the nation’s soon-to-be No. 1 and a Big Sky Conference favorite.
When 6-foot-11 Filip Petrusev’s transition dunk gave the Bulldogs a 61-28 first-half lead on Eastern Washington on Saturday at McCarthey Athletic Center, it was just a sample of the size and athleticism that’s contributed to recent wins over household names Oregon, Washington, Arizona and North Carolina.
Between Petrusev (24 points, nine rebounds), 6-10 Killian Tillie, 6-10 Drew Timme and an assembly of long guards like 6-7 Corey Kispert, the Eagles couldn’t manufacture much offense and stops came at a premium.
EWU (7-4), which led the nation in scoring (90.7 ppg) going into the game, didn’t get many clean looks in the first half, shooting 35%.
Third-year EWU coach Shantay Legans blamed himself for not having his team prepared for Gonzaga, a neighboring program the Eagles hadn’t played since 2011.
“Going up against that size, it’s tough. But you still have to out there and play,” Legans said. “If height mattered most, the best all-time player would be 7-6, not 6-foot-6. You have to go out there and fight, and in the first half we didn’t fight, and that’s the part that really hurts.
“I thought if we played our game, we would have a chance to win, but they took us out of everything we wanted to do.”
It showed early.
EWU’s biggest starter, 6-8 senior forward Mason Peatling, went up for what would typically be a routine basket in the paint before he was subsequently blocked by Petrusev off the backboard.
Minutes later, EWU’s leading scorer and most assertive talent, Jacob Davison, found an opening on a drive he appeared to want to take the the rim but suddenly passed – a turnover out of bounds – when a Gonzaga big man caught his eye.
Gonzaga also corralled four offensive rebounds on the same possession in the first half.
EWU averaged 30 3-point attempts a game heading in, but the Bulldogs got out on the perimeter and limited the Eagles to a 6-for-20 clip.
“I think they’re the biggest team we’ve played. We played (No. 22 Washington) who was very long and athletic, but Gonzaga was a little bigger than them,” Davison said. “It definitely plays a factor when you’re guarded by a guy who is a little longer.”
“I tried to match them with physicality,” Peatling said. “It’s tough when you try to block a shot, then another 6-10 guy comes, and there’s two or three of them around. That’s tough. There’s not much you can do there.”
When EWU guards tried to help guard Gonzaga’s big men inside the perimeter, the Bulldogs made them pay, hitting 12 from beyond the arc.
EWU didn’t help its case, shooting 59% from the free throw line and coughing up 18 turnovers.
“Some of the game plan we had, we forgot or fell asleep,” Davison said. “We took some early shots in the shot clock we didn’t need to take.”
Gonzaga (13-1) gave the smaller Eagles their share of fits, but the smallest player on the court, 5-10 EWU guard Tyler Kidd, was scoring with aplomb.
Kidd scored 10 straight points for EWU in the first half, hitting short and long-range jumpers while using his speed to draw contact.
Kidd scored 16 points in 14 minutes, shooting 5 for 5 from the field.
EWU, which wrapped up its second-best nonconference stretch since it’s been a Division I school, opens Big Sky play Saturday at Weber State.
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