It went on and on, through media timeouts and North Florida timeouts.
Missed shot by North Florida, Gonzaga fastbreak. Turnover by the Ospreys, Zags’ bucket at the offensive end. A missed, contested shot by the visitors from Jacksonville, a GU track meet in the other direction.
For more than 8 minutes – 8:38 to be exact – in the first half, Gonzaga put on a clinic at both ends of the court, scoring 26 unanswered points during one of the longest offensive dry spells by an opponent in McCarthey Athletic Center history.
By the end of it, the Zags had built a 24-point lead that grew to 30 by halftime and 104-63 by the final buzzer Monday in the season opener for both squads.
Gonzaga rolled to its 18th straight season-opening win and 33rd consecutive victory in a home opener. The Ospreys couldn’t slow GU’s transition game and didn’t have the size to deal with Drew Timme, Anton Watson and Efton Reid III inside.
The competition level rises quickly for the Zags, who face Michigan State on Friday in San Diego on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
The Zags were sharp against North Florida, particularly on the defensive end, which was a sore spot in a 99-80 exhibition loss to Tennessee.
North Florida, which returned its top four scorers and was picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Sun Conference, made just 27.6% from the field and, after hitting a pair of early 3-pointers, just 3 of 15 from distance while committing 13 turnovers in the opening half.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga held an 18-0 edge in fastbreak points and scored 36 points in the paint to build a 53-23 lead at intermission. The Zags made nearly 65% of their shots, including 75% on 2-pointers, most from point-blank range.
“That was huge for us just because a big emphasis going into the game was taking away their 3s and during that stretch we did a good job contesting all of them and making it tough,” junior wing Julian Strawther said. “Getting the rebounds and getting out in transition is where we thrive the most and we have the most fun.”
Timme led the way with 22 points and five teammates reached double figures, including Malachi Smith (15 points, six rebounds, three assists) and Hunter Sallis (10 points, six boards and two assists) off the bench.
Timme knows defense is one of the criticisms of his game, but he had several hustle plays that contributed to GU’s prolonged run and overall success defensively. On one first-half play, he dove out of bounds for a deflection that caused a North Florida turnover.
He swiped an entry pass to the post, led the fastbreak and fed Strawther for an acrobatic layup. In the second half, Timme scored on a layup, then hustled back down the court to force a turnover on forward Jadyn Parker.
“I definitely think that’s something that people like to have a field day with, but it’s something I’ve been trying to work with, Timme said. “I want to show I’m just more engaged.
“Quite honestly, I’m not the best defender, but I don’t think I’m a terrible defender like people like to make it out to be. Part of that is my commitment to being focused on defense. I think I can do it, it’s just a matter of being more engaged, diving on the ball more, making more effort plays. That’s something I’m really trying to focus, just staying locked in the whole time.”
Timme had a post-game embrace with North Florida guard Jarius Hicklen, a DeSoto High product that competed against Timme’s high school team in the Dallas area.
“They beat us back in the day a little bit,” said Timme, adding that it was nice to turn the tables with a win over Hicklen and the Ospreys. Hicklen had seven points and five assists.
Not to be outdone, Gonzaga’s offense was extremely efficient with 10 of the 11 to see playing time making at least 50% of their shot attempts. Seven players had at least two assists on a night when point guard Nolan Hickman sat for most of the first half with two fouls.
The Zags connected on nearly 62% from the field and piled up 66 paint points. Anton Watson helped GU open up the big first-half lead with 10 points, four assists, four rebounds and three steals. He finished with five of the Zags 15 steals.
“I don’t think we’ve had an offensive problem,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “I guess the second half against Tennessee … but so far, so good on the offensive end. We’ve taken really good care of the ball. That was something that concerned me going into the game.”
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