It wasn’t the most auspicious beginning.
When Kevin Brown and analyst Chris Spatola tipped off the ESPNU broadcast from inside the Imperial Ballroom at the Bahamas’ Atlantis Resort, the immediately shared the news Killian Tillie would not play. It must have elicited a collective groan from Gonzaga fans watching in the cold Inland Northwest.
It got louder less than a minute into the game when freshman Anton Watson, starting in Tillie’s place, rolled his right ankle, was attended to and never returned.
No matter on Wednesday. Southern Mississippi didn’t have the talent to stay with the eighth-ranked Zags, with GU cruising to a 94-69 victory.
What they saw …
• The Tillie news dominated the early part of the game, which was tied at 18 less than eight minutes in. After all, Tillie had just returned from knee surgery and had played only the last two games. Now he was sitting, though the ESPN crew held out hope he would be available as the Battle of Atlantis continued over the next couple days.
“They are certainly much, much better with him on the floor,” Spatola understated before the game.
Thankfully, the term load management didn’t come up until the announcing crew delved into the mythical history of Atlantis.
• The Zags hit their final 12 shots of the first period and, at one point, forced Southern Mississippi (2-4) to miss a dozen consecutive shots – though the Golden Eagles helped in the long scoreless drought with a handful of turnovers as well.
The biggest offensive force the Zags had? Take your pick.
Filip Petrusev was perfect from the floor in the first half and finished with 16 points. Joel Ayayi came off the bench, hit eight of his first 10 attempts and finished with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He also added a team-high 12 rebounds for an unexpected double-double.
But considering his most recent performances, 3-of-24 shooting, a fact Spatola and Brown reminded viewers at least five times, the star had to be Corey Kispert.
The junior was on fire, missing just two shots, hitting seven 3-pointers and led all scorers with a career-high-tying 28 points.
“I have no idea how (Kispert) didn’t make a preseason All-WCC,” said Spatola, who has shown in the past a deep knowledge of the Zags’ conference. “He was slighted. He deserves to be angry about it. He deserved the respect to at least be recognized.”
What we saw …
• Yes, Stephen F. Austin’s last-second win Tuesday night at top-ranked Duke was a big deal. It just was a bit jarring that a major part of a four-minute stretch, while Gonzaga was putting the game out of reach, was filled with a phone interview with Nathan Bain, the Bahama native who scored the breakaway final bucket.
• Though Brown and Spatola spent a lot of time interacting on subjects other than the game, the blowout nature probably contributed to that.
Besides, with the tournament in a tropical setting, the shots of the water, the slides, the wildlife, all are to be expected.
What isn’t, however, are mistakes. And the duo made a few early.
“That’s a tie-up,” Brown said. “Possession stays with Southern Miss.” Except it wasn’t. It was a foul on Drew Timme.
“Here’s the last two buckets for Southern Miss,” Spatola said, before a clip of an Ayayi 3-pointer popped up.
When Petrusev scored to make it 41-25, Brown said “Gonzaga’s largest lead once more.” Problem was, the Zags had led by 17 earlier.
And Spatola, talking about Watson’s past as he was being attended to on the floor, mentioned he had played on John Stockton’s AAU team since fifth grade. He was only four years off.
The key matchup …
• Even with Gonzaga not having Tillie and Watson, the Zag bigs did a number on 6-foot-9 power forward Boban Jacdonmi. But he helped a lot.
Jacdonmi, the Golden Eagles’ most physical player, struggled from the opening tip, missing his first three shots and picking up fouls as often as ESPN showed dolphins.
He was whistled for two fouls in less than 10 minutes and went to the bench. But Petrusev was having his way, so head coach Jay Ladner rolled the dice and put his post back in. He lasted two minutes before picking up his third.
Jacdonmi finished with seven points, six rebounds, two turnovers and just the three fouls.
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