Teams from the Inland Northwest settled for a split on Saturday at the NCAA Tournament, but three players who went through the Greater Spokane League before getting to their respective colleges made it a day worth remembering.
Shadle Park’s Tanner and Jacob Groves were superb in a morning game against No. 3 Kansas, scoring 35 and 23 points for No. 14 Eastern Washington in a tightly contested 93-84 loss at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.
On the other side of town later the same day, Gonzaga Prep’s Anton Watson came off the bench to dump in 17 points in No. 1 Gonzaga’s 98-55 blowout victory over No. 16 Norfolk State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Combined, Watson and the Groves brothers posted 75 points on Saturday – as many or more than 52 individual teams scored during the first three days of NCAA Tournament play.
Because the top-ranked, unbeaten Zags didn’t tip off until 6:20 p.m., EWU’s morning game against Kansas was appointment viewing for Watson, who praised the play of his former high school rivals in the GSL and applauded the regional talent as a whole.
“Hey, they’re sleeping on Spokane hoopers,” Watson said in a postgame Zoom interview. “We’ve been saying that. But (Tanner) and his brother, they were cooking today. I watched that whole game. It just shows how many hoopers we’ve got in Spokane. Me and him were battling in high school, so that’s respect to him.”
To go with his bench-leading 17 points, Watson was also a presence on the glass, grabbing seven rebounds while also dishing out four assists in his first NCAA Tournament appearance. The former two-time Associated Press 4A State Player of the Year was supposed to make his tournament debut in 2020, and probably would’ve made it in Spokane had the event not been shut down due to COVID-19.
“It’s really fun, actually. I’ve been waiting on this moment since I was a little kid playing on this big stage of March Madness,” Watson said. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was little, so to come out first game and do this is like, it just feels amazing.”
Tanner Groves led both the Eagles and Jayhawks in scoring on Saturday and contributed five rebounds with three blocked shots. Jacob Groves pulled down a game-high nine rebounds with one steal and one block before fouling out. The brothers combined to 9 of 16 from distance and were 11 of 12 from the free-throw line.
“He’s Spokane through and through,” EWU coach Shantay Legans said of Tanner. “He put everything on the line. We’ve been playing and Gonzaga’s been good since I’ve been at Eastern. It’s been one of those deals that, you’ve got a really good team, it’s like having a pro team in your city. We just keep chugging along, we don’t have any ego, we know they’re a really good team. It’s fun to watch them play.
“We’re rooting for them now. We need them to win the whole thing for all the Spokane guys. I think it means a lot to Tanner to be able to play and represent him, himself and his family the way he has.”
A fourth GSL alum, Gonzaga Prep’s Liam Lloyd, made a brief cameo in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament for Grand Canyon.
The son of Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd was scoreless and played less than a full minute in an 86-74 loss to No. 2 Iowa.
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