It looks like just another game on the Gonzaga’s nonconference schedule, but it figures to have the full attention of the coaching staff and a few of the Zags’ upperclassmen.
North Dakota did everything but beat Gonzaga on a December night in 2017 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The Zags trailed by eight with less than four minutes remaining before digging out a win in overtime against the Fighting Hawks, who were 30-point underdogs.
UND guard Geno Crandall put on a show with 28 points. He joined Gonzaga the following season as a graduate transfer. Crandall is averaging 11 points and 3.6 assists for Svitavy in the Czech Republic.
“The Geno Crandall game,” said junior forward Corey Kispert, shortly after the Zags’ 110-60 rout over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday. “Especially with North Dakota, you can’t take anybody for granted.”
That applies even though most of the names on both rosters have changed and UND is under the direction of first-year coach Paul Sather.
The Fighting Hawks were in the Big Sky for the 2017 matchup but now play in the Summit League. They finished seventh in the Summit last year and they were picked eighth in the preseason poll.
Holdovers from the 2017 meeting include Kispert and Killian Tillie, who hasn’t played yet this season while recovering from a knee injury, and UND seniors Marlon Stewart, Billy Brown and Kienan Walter.
The 6-foot-3 Stewart had 15 points and five boards while Brown and Walter saw limited minutes off the bench. Kispert played just seven minutes.
Stewart is UND’s top returning scorer at 14.3 points. De’Sean Allen-Eikens, a 6-6 freshman guard, made three 3-pointers and scored 22 points in a season-opening win over Division III Crown College.
There should be additional familiarity with both teams boasting numerous international players. Gonzaga’s Filip Petrusev and UND’s Filip Rebraca are sophomore forwards and Serbian natives.
Tillie, sophomore guard Joel Ayayi and Fighting Hawks sophomore forward Marko Coudreau have experience on French junior national teams. Gonzaga freshman wing Martynas Arlauskas and UND freshman forward Gertautas Urbonavicius are from Lithuania.
The 6-9, 220-pound Rebraca had 20 points and 11 rebounds against Crown College. Rebraca’s father, Zeljko, a 7-foot center, was drafted by Seattle in 1994 and played six NBA seasons with Detroit, Atlanta and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Petrusev scored a career-high 25 points against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“He’s been extremely efficient on the offensive end,” coach Mark Few said of Petrusev. “He has great hands and he’s very comfortable in there. There’s room for improvement at the other end and we’re working hard on that.”
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