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Key matchup: Syracuse’s Judah Mintz looks to get back on track in Honolulu against Gonzaga

HONOLULU – Mark Few knew the Maui Invitational would present a variety of challenges to his Gonzaga Bulldogs – tests that should be good for them not only as they plug away at a tough nonconference schedule, but potentially down the road in the NCAA Tournament.

Consider the diversity of Gonzaga’s first two exams in Oahu: a Purdue team led by a hulking 7-foot-4 center and a Syracuse team that primarily relies on the scoring ability and distribution of a 6-foot-4 point guard.

The Zags didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for game No. 2 at the Maui Invitational, but much of the time they did have was likely dedicated to Syracuse sophomore Judah Mintz, who’s leading the Orange in two major statistical categories after the first four games of the season.

Prior to Monday’s game against Tennessee in Honolulu, Mintz was scoring at a 23 point-per-game clip and dishing out 5.0 assists per game, improving in both columns under first-year Syracuse coach Adrian Autry. Mintz averaged 16.3 ppg and 4.6 apg last season while earning All-ACC Honorable Mention and ACC All-Freshman honors.

Syracuse’s standout guard – a preseason Wooden Award selection – presents an entirely different challenge to Gonzaga than Purdue center Zach Edey, but the two also possess a common skill the Bulldogs need to be wary of entering Tuesday’s game.

Edey drew seven fouls and scored nine points from the free -throw line – on 10 attempts – in Monday’s 73-63 win over the Zags. Mintz also has a knack for getting to the line, averaging 8.5 attempts through Syracuse’s first four games.

Mintz went 6 of 10 from the free throw line in Monday’s loss and might have been there more if he didn’t get into foul trouble himself. The guard finished with 15 points, but Tennessee limited his efficiency, forcing Mintz to go 4 of 14 from the field. He had just two assists but four turnovers.

“I think I just struggled offensively, just missing shots that I usually make,” Mintz said. “I didn’t play for a good chunk of the first half due to foul trouble, so I think once I got back in the flow of the game, I had my way.”

At 6-foot-4, Mintz poses problems for Gonzaga’s backcourt, which features Ryan Nembhard (6-0) and Nolan Hickman (6-2). The Bulldogs may also elect to use 6-foot-6 freshman wing Dusty Stromer as a defensive option on Mintz, as well as 6-foot-5 freshman guard Luka Krajnovic.