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Gonzaga Basketball

Analysis: Gonzaga shakes off sloppy first half, thumps Northwestern State 95-57

Gonzaga’s Corey Kispert slams down two of his 27 points against Northwestern State on Monday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The rout anticipated by odds makers, media and most Gonzaga fans started forming early, as the top-ranked Zags bolted in front by 14 points after six-plus minutes.

It disappeared nearly as quickly.

Northwestern State, a 38½-point underdog, cut the lead to five points and kept on battling as the Zags got sloppy at both ends of the floor.

Gonzaga didn’t mess around in the second half, doubling its 13-point halftime edge in the first eight minutes and cruising to a 95-57 victory in Monday night’s home opener inside a nearly empty McCarthey Athletic Center.

The Zags (5-0) and Demons (1-8) run it back Tuesday at 6 p.m. before Northwestern State closes out a stretch of five games in six days at Washington State at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“We’re four games down after one very long pause due to COVID,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “You can learn a lot from games. This (back-to-back) presented itself. We looked at some other options and couldn’t quite get it done. We’re kind of running out of days to get in more games, and this team needs more games.”

Senior wing Corey Kispert led Gonzaga with 27 points – one shy of his career high – and four more Zags reached double figures, including freshman guard Dominick Harris with 10. Sophomore forward Anton Watson finished with a career-high 15 points.

“It’s just being in the zone, everything kind of slows down and you make reads, and luckily my first couple shots fell in, so I was able to be aggressive throughout the game,” Kispert said. “Credit to guys like Jalen (Suggs) and Joel (Ayayi) for making my life really easy and getting me open shots.”

Gonzaga wasn’t sharp for most of the first half after opening up an early 19-5 lead. Other than Kispert, the Zags struggled to find their shooting touch until later in the half.

They made up for it by hitting 12 free throws – they were in the bonus for the final 14:42 of the half – and scoring 14 second-chance points and 14 fast-break points.

Northwestern State kept it competitive, draining the shot clock and hustling down loose balls. The Demons were so patient offensively that the shot-clock horn sounded twice while made 3-pointers were in flight. One was C.J. Jones’ hurried 3 that found the target, the other was Carvell Teasett’s banked 3 from the wing.

“Northwestern State has Division I players, man, and if you’re not alert and adhering to the things that have made you successful to this point of the season, you can get burned,” Few said. “They did a really nice job spreading us out and being really patient.

“We got a little impatient at the defensive end, and probably got a little frustrated with those shots at the end of the shot clock. We were really losing a lot of guys off the ball in the first half, and we did a much better job in the second half.”

Gonzaga opened the second half with a new look – junior guard Andrew Nemb- hard started in place of Watson – and improved focus. It resulted in three dunks, one by Drew Timme and two by Kispert, fueling a 10-2 spurt that created a 53-33 lead.

The margin continued to expand, reaching 31 after Watson’s steal led to Julian Strawther’s dunk with 8 minutes remaining. After a slow start, Watson put together a strong second half. He finished with seven rebounds, four steals, four assists and three blocks.

“I definitely didn’t have the best start,” the former Gonzaga Prep standout said, “but coach (Few) told me to bring my edge and play defense and make plays. That’s all I tried to do.

“It gave me a little motivation coming off the bench. I don’t usually like to do that, I like to play.”

Teasett scored a team-high 16 points and Jairus Roberson made four 3-pointers and added 12 points for the Demons, who used 14 players, 10 who played double-digit minutes.

Kispert and Watson couldn’t recall facing the same opponent on consecutive nights.

“First time,” Kispert said. “I expect pretty much what we saw tonight. We’re both not going to do much of anything different from day to day.

“We just have to tighten the screws on some of the things we were loose with (Monday).”